5 Holiday Activities for Seniors (With Virtual Options!)
The holiday season is right around the corner, which means now is the perfect time to plan festive activities for your senior living community’s winter calendar.
This year, with COVID surges still unpredictable and still possible and an official flu epidemic underway, it’s a good idea to schedule activities with a backup plan in mind from the start. That way, if the need for social distance arises, you’ll be able to seamlessly transition events to account for increased safety.
To get you started, we’re sharing five holiday activities for seniors, as well as alternative plans for moving things online.
Bonus: if your community is in a warm climate, you might also find inspiration from our summer edition of activity suggestions.
1. Host a Holiday Cookie Contest
Ask resident bakers to bake their favorite family recipe and submit the results to a community cookie contest. You may choose a few staff members to act as judges and / or let residents taste and decide.
Either way, make the contest part of a larger holiday gathering, where residents can sample cookies, listen to holiday music, and share stories about their cookies and the fond memories associated with them.
If residents want to participate but don’t have a recipe, be sure to have a stack of suggestion recipes at the ready.
For a virtual alternative, organize a recipe swap. Although they may not be able to meet in person, residents can still have fun learning new recipes and baking cookies. Collect favorite recipes from participating bakers, then gift each recipe to a different resident.
You can also pair residents together so they bake each others’ recipes. Then, they can meet via video chat to discuss the cookies, share memories, and swap baking tips.
2. Decorate a Community Mitten Tree
Mitten trees allow crafty residents to show off their handiwork and spread holiday cheer to the wider community. Mitten trees are decorated with handmade mittens, hats, scarves, and more, then placed in a central location so that people may anonymously take what they need to stay cozy in the cold.
In the weeks leading up to the holidays, schedule a few knitting (or crocheting!) circles where residents can work on their creations together while chatting, listening to holiday music, and enjoying a few snacks.
Finished items can be packaged in zip-top bags along with a holiday card and some warm wishes from the maker.
You can also expand the tree to include store-bought outerwear as well. This lets more people participate and can ensure you’re able to fill the tree in a shorter timeline.
Residents may choose to partner with a community center outside of their own to display their tree. Common areas to place mitten trees include:
- Religious centers
- Health facilities / hospitals
- Grocery stores
- Anywhere people congregate!
Let your residents decide where to place the tree, or choose a location based on their interests.
For a virtual alternative, move the in-person knitting circles to virtual knitting circles. Video chats still allow residents to socialize, share tips, and show off their handiwork. If possible, arrange to have a special treat, such as hot cocoa, delivered to residents’ rooms so everyone can savor the same sweetness.
3. Launch a Homemade Holiday Card Campaign
Inspire your residents to make homemade holiday cards for members of their wider / greater / local community. Partner with a local organization to find card recipients. In some cases, it may be possible to do an exchange, with your residents also receiving a card from a member of the community.
Choose an organization that appeals to your residents. Here are some ideas:
- A children’s hospital
- Veterans’ center
- Family or youth shelter
Sending holiday cards is a tradition that dates back to the middle of the nineteenth century, and it survives to the digital age! Have residents come together to make their cards and write their messages with assistance from staff.
For a virtual alternative, deliver card-making materials to each resident or schedule socially distanced pickups. Place collection boxes in places that are convenient for residents, and set a collection-day deadline so that cards can be delivered on time.
4. Organize a Classic Holiday Movie Night with a Twist
Screen a classic holiday movie – or even a double feature – for residents and their families. Make sure there’s plenty of popcorn to munch on!
Whether it’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or It’s a Wonderful Life, your residents may have seen their favorite movie almost every year since they were children. To keep things interesting, pair the showing with holiday bingo.
Print out blank bingo cards to distribute to residents so they can fill in their cards with holiday words: snow, reindeer, Santa, etc. Alternatively, create your own bingo cards to distribute to residents.
When residents see something on their card in the movie, they can mark off that space. Make sure to provide winter-themed prizes for winners! Here are some ideas:
- Holiday-scented candles, such as pine or gingerbread
- Fuzzy slippers
- A wreath for their door
- A donation to an organization in the winner’s name
For a virtual alternative, stream the movie to resident rooms instead of a central location. With new watch-together services, even bingo will still be possible. You’ll just need to deliver the cards to residents in advance.
5. Host a Holiday Book Club
Encourage resident bookworms to read a holiday tale, then discuss it together – with winter-themed beverages and nibbles, of course. If participation is great, you may want to break residents into groups of eight to ten, as too many people can make discussion difficult.
Consider making this a holiday tradition, gifting a new book (hardcopy or audio) to all residents each year. Then, anyone who wants to participate in the book discussion is welcome. Knowing that another resident has read the book means everyone has at least one thing in common, which makes meeting new friends that much easier.
It’s hard to find one book that everyone will enjoy, but that means there will be more to discuss when the time comes! We love NPR’s Books We Love guide, which lets you explore books by genre, theme, and publication year.
For a virtual alternative, simply move the discussion online with a video chat service.
Spread Holiday Cheer with Flexible Programming
Holiday infection surges may mean going back to health mandates, but it doesn’t mean that residents can’t participate in holiday fun, even when they can’t be together.
Keep residents up-to-date with your holiday programming – and changes to that programming – with Calendar Central, which allows them to sign up for the winter activities that appeal to them. Updates can be made to your schedule of events in real time.To learn how Icon can support your community’s programming all year round,