The holiday season is often a flurry of activities – from shopping and baking to decorating and entertaining. Among older adults there is often a genuine yearning to return to simpler times when a plain, old-fashioned Christmas was the order of the day. What images come to mind when you think of Christmases of yesteryear – horse-drawn sleighs, trees draped in cranberry chains and popcorn strings, Norman Rockwell Santas, Currier & Ives cards? The holidays trigger all kinds of nostalgic memories. Here are some activities to enjoy the season with your group and reflect on times with family and friends.

  • Fill an old Christmas stocking with items such as peppermint sticks, chocolate drops, apples, oranges, nuts, and raisins. Ask: What are your earliest memories of Christmas? Did you hang a stocking? Did you ever receive a lump of coal for misbehaving? What did you “stuff” in your children’s stockings?
  • Sing some popular “Santa” songs, e.g., “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” or “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Read Francis P. Church’s editorial “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus,” written to 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon in the 1897 New York Sun. Encourage participants to talk about how their families experienced Old St. Nick.
  • Design some simple holiday greeting cards from recycled Christmas cards. Glue images on construction paper, and write an original card verse. Send the cards to U.S. service personnel or to children in hospitals.
  • Enjoy an afternoon of classic holiday movies, like It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, or Scrooge.
  • Listen to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas.” Explore the history of the song, which was released during World War II. Watch the 1954 movie White Christmas. Shake some plastic snow globes. Ask: Do you enjoy snow on Christmas? Tell us about a memorable Christmas with lots of snow.
  • Enjoy a holiday sing-along. Ask participants to share memories of holiday caroling. Talk about caroler etiquette, e.g., refreshments, applause.
  • Listen to Andy Williams sing “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Watch some beloved Christmas television specials with Perry Como, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, or Bob Hope.
  • Display a red holiday dress and ask participants to describe their favorite holiday attire. Pass around samples of holiday fabrics – e.g., satin, velvet, silk, crepe, organza – and ask group members to name the type of fabric. Buy some samples of Christmas prints from a fabric store. Cut out pieces that include small Christmas motifs and make fabric collages.
  • Reminisce about family holiday shopping. Ask: Did you ever join a Christmas Club? Did you ever use layaway to buy gifts? Did you shop from mail-order catalogs, at a downtown department store, or in shopping mall? What kinds of homemade gifts have you given? How did you make holiday shopping less stressful?
  • Display a child’s angel costume (old Butterick patterns), or a lamb or shepherd, and ask participants if they ever participated in a Christmas pageant or program – in the school, church, or community. Watch the DVD The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, or enjoy some Christmas skits with your group.
  • Reminisce about the arrival of the Sears Christmas catalog. (You can show your group a more modern Sears Wishbook.) Compile a boy’s wish list and a girl’s wish list of items your group wanted as children or teens. (A few memory joggers: Raggedy Ann doll, American Flyer model train set, Betty Booper doll, Lionel electric train, Monopoly, Shirley Temple doll, Daisy Red Ryder, Baby Dimples doll.)
  • Sing the song “O Christmas Tree” and reminisce about searching for the perfect Christmas tree with your family. (Props: mittens, stocking caps, long scarves) Invite a guest speaker from a local tree farm to bring in sample evergreen tree branches and identify favorites by their needles. Decorate a small tabletop tree.
  • Hold a holiday cookie-tasting contest (sugar, gingerbread, shortbread) and vote on favorite cookie.
  • Sing the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and talk about the custom of gift giving during the 12 days of Christmas – from December 25 through January 6.
  • Display some favorite holiday plants – poinsettia, red amaryllis, paper white narcissus, or Christmas cactus – for your group to enjoy. (Caution: some of these are poisonous if eaten.)


‘Tis the season for some holiday cheer! Quiz your group on these popular holiday characters.

  1. What is the first name of Scrooge in the short story “A Christmas Carol”? Ebenezer
  2. This villain tries to sabotage Christmas in a popular children’s book by Dr. Seuss. Grinch (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)
  3. What is the name of the “most famous reindeer of all”? Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  4. In what Christmas ballet does the Sugar Plum Fairy appear? The Nutcracker
  5. This jolly fellow is also known as St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, and Kris Kringle. Santa Claus
  6. Which popular holiday figure tries to get to the North Pole before he melts? Frosty the Snowman
  7. This elfish figure symbolizes the cold winter. Jack Frost
  8. In A Charlie Brown Christmas Special, which member of the Peanuts gang recites the story of the birth of Jesus? Linus
  9. Which one of Santa Claus’ reindeer begins with the letter P? Prancer
  10. What is the name of Bob Cratchit’s crippled son in “A Christmas Carol”? Tiny Tim

“HOLIDAY NOSTALGIA” written by Sue Hansen. © 2008 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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