The holiday season is a time when many different cultural traditions come together. People of all backgrounds are united by their desire for warmth and connection.

Senior living communities are no exception. In fact, it may be even more important to nurture a sense of gathering, as older adults may be susceptible to loneliness during the seasonal holidays. Feasts and festive gatherings can take a new form with all sorts of family, from fellow residents to community visitors.

Christmas or Thanksgiving activities for the elderly are always an opportunity to create new happy memories. Caregivers can help older adults experience the joy of the season with festive activities for seniors. 

The best part of this season is that there’s always room for new traditions. Here’s how senior living communities can cultivate a feeling of merriment and boost their residents’ overall quality of life.

Making Seasonal Holidays Merry for Seniors

The winter holidays are a classic time for romance and family gatherings, as evidenced by decades of pop culture. Countless songs focus on togetherness, whether around the table or under the mistletoe. Seasonal advertising urges people to spend time with loved ones.

It’s crucial to help older adults participate in and enjoy these themes, from friendship to romance! In this AARP study, 31 percent of respondents said they’d experienced a feeling of loneliness during the holiday season. 

Seniors need a caring community in the spirit of the season — one that nurtures new opportunities to connect and create, rather than trying to replace what they may have lost. Plan some festive activities that can make their happy holiday wish come true.

Keeping Seniors Involved During the Holidays

To ward off feelings of loneliness and isolation, help older adults get actively engaged during the festive season.

Senior living communities can cultivate a sense of care and companionship within their communities, regardless of whether other family members are present. You can create new traditions — with a hearty helping of nostalgia!

Even if seniors are in touch with family and friends, it’s helpful to expand their social circle. A Harvard Medical School study found that older adults who participated in wider community activities had higher energy levels and better moods.

Here are some activities for seniors sure to put them in the holiday mood:

  • Ask seniors what their favorite seasonal dishes are. Encourage everyone to share the recipes for a “Best Of” holiday feast. In the past, residents at the Tribute at One Loudoun held a Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice cooking week, during which they baked their favorite holiday cookies and favorite holiday dishes together. It was a great success!
  • Host a holiday craft session where seniors can make cards, tree decorations, wreaths, and so on. This is an annual tradition at the Tribute at Melford!
  • Set up a baking party and encourage seniors to decorate holiday cookies or gingerbread houses. Residents at Tribute at the Glen bake gingerbread houses, then the community votes on their favorites!
  • Create mini succulent gardens. They’re easy to care for and delightful to watch grow. Plus, they’re usually in seasonal colors!
  • Watch classic holiday films such as It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, and Miracle on 34th Street. They’re classics for a reason!
  • Put a holiday twist on playground games such as shuffleboard or miniature bowling. For example, residents at Tribute at The Glen play “Jingle Bell Toss” every year.
  • Plan a dress-up day so everyone can feel festive. At Tribute at the Glen, residents have participated in Flannel Day, Ugly Sweater Day, PJ Day, and Holiday Caps & Stockings Day!

Adapting Holiday Rituals for Senior Living Communities

Holiday traditions usually revolve around togetherness and appreciation, which are wonderful themes of hope no matter which holidays one celebrates.

Senior living communities or caregivers should respect these traditions, and enable seniors to celebrate in a way that is meaningful to them.

“The dates of the holidays don’t change just because someone moves into a senior living community,” says Michelle Mindock, community relations director at Tribute at The Glen. “We celebrate Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving day and Christmas on Christmas Day, unlike many other senior living communities. Our team members bring our own families and we celebrate with our residents. They are also our family.”

Here are some ways to bring those rituals to life in a safe and accessible way. 

Thanksgiving activities for seniors

  • Host a craft session for each person to make a cornucopia.
  • Have a cooking contest with classic Thanksgiving dishes that are easy to customize (e.g. stuffing, cranberry sauce).
  • Play the thankfulness game: everyone takes turns describing something in the room or their lives, but must preface it with “I’m thankful for…”

Christmas activities for seniors

  • Set up an Advent wreath with LED candles.
  • Host a Nativity play reading.
  • Create a Nativity scene with miniatures. 
  • Bring the centuries-old tradition of caroling to your senior living community. If you’re a caregiver, try virtual caroling so the senior can connect with faraway relatives.

Hanukkah activities for seniors

  • Set up a menorah with LED lights.
  • Play the dreidel game. Winners get a pot of gelt, which can be any sort of yummy treat. You could also host a dreidel-themed craft session.
  • Create Star of David ornaments.

Kwanzaa activities for seniors

  • Set up a kinara with LED candles.
  • Weave a mkeka placemat out of raffia or paper.
  • Host a craft session to make unity cups (Kikombe cha Umoja) and corn-themed decorations.

Embracing Diversity: Learning About Others’ Holidays and Traditions

The winter season has a remarkable variety of holidays, including Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Christmas, and Las Posadas. Many people also celebrate in a secular fashion.

Even if seniors don’t have access to a church or temple, they can still have avenues for spiritual fulfillment.

Especially in senior living communities, it’s important to honor and acknowledge everyone’s traditions. The diversity is amazing fodder for new holiday activities:

  • Have everyone share their holiday rituals, beliefs, and artifacts. Even those who follow the same holidays may celebrate in different ways, depending on their region or upbringing.
  • Combine similar traditions in a new way. For example, almost all winter holidays involve candles or lamps. Host a (safe) lighting ceremony to literally brighten the community.

These holiday fusion activities create a dual sense of care and companionship: opportunities to honor one’s traditions and make new friendships that will last beyond the season.

Be sure to invite families from the greater community to senior living holiday events as well. The more, the merrier! For example, Cadence at Olney is hosting Breakfast with Santa on December 2, 2023, featuring a waffle bar, omelet station, kids’ crafts, and family holiday movies. 

The Importance of Creating New Traditions

Older adults may feel lonely during the winter season. Creating new wintertime traditions has immense physical and psychological benefits and can boost seniors’ quality of life even beyond the holidays.

Caregivers can tap into beloved holiday traditions to forge a stronger community — one that nourishes seniors’ mental, social, and spiritual wellness. It’s truly the spirit of the season! 

No matter which holiday your loved ones celebrate, there’s a festive variety of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas activities for seniors. See what joy you can spread this winter, whether you’re celebrating with your older loved one or working in an elderly care community.

At Cogir, we’ll be doing our part to help older adults enjoy the most wonderful time of the year! Five senior living communities in the Washington, DC metropolitan area – Tribute at One Loudoun in Ashburn, VA; Tribute at The Glen in Woodbridge, VA; Tribute at Black Hill in Germantown, MD; Tribute at Melford in Bowie, MD; and Cadence Olney in Olney, MD –  are part of the Cogir Family of communities. What sets Cogir apart is the company’s devoted approach to creating healthy, vibrant communities that offer residents exceptional independent living, assisted living and memory care lifestyle options. Cogir Senior Living develops, owns and/or operates 60 lifestyle communities throughout the United States. For more information, visit