The Christmas season is a great time for making memories. Etched in the minds and hearts of many older adults are childhood images of an old-fashioned Christmas – homespun, simple, uncomplicated. Although the holiday has changed a bit over the years, some things remain the same: baking sugar cookies using Grandma’s favorite recipe, tromping through the woods in search of the perfect tree, listening to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas,” lining up for a visit with Santa, or attending the annual Christmas pageant. ‘Tis the season to celebrate holiday traditions that have made lasting memories with your group.

ACTIVITIES – The activities suggested below will add a bit of nostalgia to the festivities.

• Listen to songs such as “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” Ask: What is your favorite “Merry Christmas” memory? What family traditions and rituals have been the most meaningful to you over the years? What advice would you give young families on how to enjoy Christmas?
• Celebrate Christmas – 1940s style. Listen to Big Band instrumental Christmas music; watch a classic film from the decade – Holiday Inn, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street; sing along with Bing Crosby’s rendition of “White Christmas”; pass around vintage patriotic Christmas cards and talk about sending gifts to the troops; sample a wartime cookie recipe, using molasses, honey, or maple syrup.
• Show vintage photos of Christmas window displays and department store Santas – Macy’s, Gimbel’s, Sears. Assemble a display of time-worn toys – trains, dolls, wooden blocks, teddy bears. Read old letters to Santa from the 1930s/1940s. (Learn about the Santa Claus, Indiana, post office.) Ask for volunteers to don a Santa hat and white beard and to give their best jolly old St. Nick imitation.
• Memory challenge: Display small, colorful Christmas items – silver bells, red bow, star cookie cutter, sprig of holly, greeting card, angel tree ornament, candy cane, tinsel, snowman. Show the items to your group for a few minutes and then remove them. Later, ask participants to recall the items. Or, place some items in a stocking – candy cane, wooden tree, star, bell, round bulb, gingerbread man – and ask your group to identify the items based on shape.
• Ask for a volunteer to give a dramatic reading performance of the 1864 poem “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Talk about the message of the poem, written during the Civil War. Listen to the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and compare the song with the original poem. Invite a church bell choir to ring for your group.
• Display a photo of Salvation Army bell ringers. Ask: Have you ever been involved in a seasonal charity project, like the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots or the Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign? Tell us about the experience of helping others with food, clothing, or toys. (Use some of these trigger words: donate, volunteer, serve, collect/distribute, cook/feed.)
• Play a fun game of holiday charades, acting out song titles such as “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Bells.” Or, challenge your group to Name That Christmas Tune, using carols and songs. Enjoy a game of Christmas Bingo.
• Fill the air with holiday kitchen scents using citrus. Make clove/cinnamon citrus pomander balls – oranges, limes, lemons. Make a batch of iced orange cookies.
• Learn the history of lighting a National Christmas Tree in Washington, DC. (Watch the lighting of this year’s tree on PBS in early December.) Pass around books with photos of Christmas at the White House and talk about First Ladies and their holiday themes.
• Listen to Gene Autry’s version of “Up on the Housetop.” Display old Christmas stockings. Reminisce about Christmas morning and the antics of siblings. Share old family holiday photos, if available. Serve muffins or coffee cake.
• Find out the ancestral heritage of group members. Explore some of their ethnic or cultural Christmas traditions (ex: German-Americans). Sample a special holiday food, like stollen. Check at the local library for books on Christmas customs around the world.
• Display a crèche/nativity set. Read the Christmas story (Luke 2:1-20). Talk about angels in the Nativity story. Make angel tree toppers. Sing carols that mention angels – “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
• Learn about the legend of candy canes. Smell peppermint oil. Eat peppermint sticks. Make red and white chenille candy canes. Serve hot chocolate with mint flavoring.
• Talk about birds associated with the Christmas holiday – cardinal, dove, partridge, and peacock. Sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Make origami birds to display. Craft a colorful bird mobile to hang. Assemble a bird’s nest tree ornament.
• Reminisce about popular holiday events in a community or small town – tree lighting ceremony, chorale group concert, school/church pageant, ballet/theatre performance, open house. Ask: How did your hometown celebrate Christmas? What special events do you recall attending with family or friends? In what ways did you help with activities in the community?


1. Name some others words for Christmas. Noel, Yuletide, Nativity, Christmastide, Xmas
2. Which one of Santa’s reindeer begins with the letter ‘B’? Blitzen
3. What’s the name of the popular Christmas ballet composed by Tchaikovsky? The Nutcracker
4. What is a tannenbaum? Christmas tree (German origin)
5. Which Christmas song mentions “figgy pudding”? “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”
6. What’s the name of the character played by Jimmy Stewart in the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life? George Bailey
7. Finish the title of this Christmas hymn: “We Three Kings of…” Orient Are
8. Which character in the Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol uses the catchphrase “Bah, Humbug”? Ebenezer Scrooge
9. According to the holiday song, “Jingle Bells,” what kind of sleigh is it fun to ride in? A one-horse open sleigh
10. Which plant’s leaves and berries do you hang if you want to steal a kiss for Christmas? Mistletoe


“Peace, like charity, begins at home.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

“CHRISTMASTIME – ‘TIS THE SEASON” written by Sue Hansen. © 2011 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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