FROM ATLANTIC TO PACIFIC – December Activity Ideas

Perry Como sang all about traveling home in his classic song, “Home for the Holidays.” In the month of December – traditionally full of Christmas cookies and hot chocolate –  challenge yourself (and delight your group members) with a travel spin on your holiday events. The theme From Atlantic to Pacific can introduce some new learning along with reminiscence; it can also give a much-needed reprieve from too much holiday programming that can sometimes lead to depression or sadness as well. What are you waiting for? We’ve pulled together a few ideas that can move you to the road and get your thinking on track. Pack your bags and get started on this fun take on the holidays.

Music Take your holiday travel theme past America and into international waters by having a group activity centered around international holiday music. The Listenlive website allows you to listen live to Christmas stations around the globe, while the Christmas Songs website gives you a few options for international songs from France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. Finally, you can always turn to YouTube for international favorites, hit your local music store to pick up some CDs to enjoy, or you can invite international choirs or groups into your community to share a program full of global favorites.

Cognitive Add a fun, cognitive activity into your New Year celebrations this year that highlights different areas of the world that are entering into the new year. Visit the Time and Date website to see when certain countries celebrate 2017 and what time it corresponds to your day. At the top of each hour, blow noisemakers and wish those countries a happy new year. Point out the country on a globe or map, along with learning a few interesting facts about that area of the world and how they celebrate the new year. While you certainly won’t get around to celebrating every hour, this is a fun way to make New Year’s Eve Day a fun and educational one for residents. Plus, who doesn’t love celebrating new beginnings every hour?

Family In celebration of the great family road trip, invite families to join your residents on a special outing this month as you visit a few destinations in your area. In this Progressive Christmas Party, you can choose which places your participants would most enjoy, staying at each destination only for a bit before getting back in the van and heading to the next place. Try a local coffee shop for hot cocoa, a favorite bakery for sweets, a florist to admire the Christmas displays, and a local church for a Nativity viewing. Print out a list of the addresses of the destinations for families, letting them drive to each place independently to meet your bus full of residents. What a celebrating caravan you will form! You can also pass out CDs of holiday music to families, along with candy canes for everyone to enjoy during your road trip.

Food – Work with your dining department and community food committee to plan a special Taste of America dinner or lunch that highlights some regional specialties. This doesn’t have to be holiday themed, and will be something special for group members to look forward to during the otherwise typical holiday programming. You can even make a special menu that incorporates fun facts about each regional area, or put on a silly skit in the dining room about each of the dishes. For example, you can have a “New York” character and a “Chicago” character arguing about which pizza is better before serving a small slice of both, or have a New Orleans jazz character lead a second line through your dining room before enjoying a cup of gumbo.

Spiritual – Designate one of your Christmas trees as a Prayer Tree in your community. Decorate the tree with ornaments representing each of the 50 states of our country. You can do this by working with your group to make homemade ornaments of state outlines (or puzzle pieces depicting each state) or simply the names of each state. Put a candle “burning” (with a flameless flame) on a table near the tree, encouraging those stopping by to say a prayer for one of the states on the tree. You can make this an individual activity or even a group activity, with prayer prompts and silent time for meditation. Ask your Chaplain to develop a list of prayer prompts that can sit near the candle to encourage prayer or meditation.

Crafts – Create a holiday tradition project that will support your travel theme and give your group members the chance to remember what makes holiday traditions special to them. First, ask each person to name a state where she/he associates a happy holiday memory. It might be the state where they grew up, the state where they raised a family, or a state they traveled to for the holidays. Once you know this information, go to the 50 States website and print out an outline of the state. You can enlarge it to fit a sheet of paper. Then, cut it out and trace it onto white card-stock paper (participants can do this as well, if you prefer). Once each participant has a blank state, have him/her to write favorite memories on the state, using colored markers. Encourage group members to fill the state full of colorful words that. If someone does not want to write, or are unable to, you can enlist volunteers to write down the memories as dictated to them. You can also consider leaving a small square open to place a photo of the writer. As you gather up your completed states, you can place them in a location where others can enjoy this lovely – and meaningful – art installation. Even better, have the art installation as a part of your family holiday party, along with blank states and markers available for family members to add their own pieces to the collection. It will be interesting to see how many states are represented in your art collection, as well as the memories that are important to the artists.

Sensory Kit – Add a holiday spin to the travel kit that you likely already have in storage or in the community. Along with postcards, maps, and photos of America’s national parks, add in aromas of peppermint, clove, cinnamon, and evergreen. Encourage exploration by burying small evergreen tree models in containers of cotton balls or other fake snow materials. Snow globes that feature prominent state landmarks are a wonderful addition as well!

Intergenerational – Invite kids over to your community for a Christmas Pirate party. A pirate party not only matches your theme of travel, it also gives kids a reason to dress up like pirates and have a great time. Enjoy pirate-themed snacks of peg legs (pretzel sticks), goldfish crackers, and have marshmallows “walk the plank” into cups of hot cocoa. You can even lead a fun caroling session.

Giving Back – Consider a service project that honors those who have served our states through many holiday seasons by inviting veterans into your community for a special event. Host a Home for the Holidays event, inviting veterans into your community for snacks and drinks. Coordinate with your local VFW or other veteran organization to get the word out. Ask community members to welcome visitors, serve drinks, or be a part of any honor ceremony that you may offer. Ask your Chaplain or community designee to say a few words of sincere thanks to the veterans and conclude with a patriotic concert by a favorite entertainer. If you are looking to make an even bigger event, try putting on your own USO-themed show. Staff members can work together to perform skits, and you can hire Andrews Sisters or Bob Hope impersonators to lead the show.

Celebration – Thanks to modern technology, seniors can connect with other seniors across the country. This month, consider having a joint Christmas celebration with another skilled nursing (or assisted living, independent living, or memory care) community in another part of the country via Skype or FaceTime. Search for another community in a designated city or state online and call that Activity Director to see if you can set something up. You can mail the other community a box full of party favors that highlight your area of the country before the party and open the boxes live during the celebration. Sing songs together, eat together, and talk to one another about life in another part of the country. Who knows – this celebration could be the start of a wonderful cross-country relationship.


  1. According to the Nat King Cole song, where does he “get his kicks”? On Route 66
  2. When traveling to the Atlantic or Pacific coast, where can visitors find creatures such as seastars, anemones, sea cucumbers, and hermit crabs? Tide pools
  3. America recently celebrated the centennial birthday of National Parks in August. Can you name at least 3 National Parks? Grand Canyon, Arches, Mount Rushmore, Smokey Mountains, Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Everglades (others are possible)
  4. California’s Pacific Coast Highway features some stunning ocean views as it heads along the coast of the state. What is the highway’s number? Route 1
  5. Finish the lyrics from this Christmas classic: “From Atlantic to Pacific, gee the traffic is _________________.” Terrific
  6. In this modern Christmas movie, a little boy named Kevin is inadvertently left home by himself to fight some crooks while his family is traveling. Name the movie? Home Alone
  7. If you were traveling to New York City, where would you go to see the iconic Christmas tree? Rockefeller Center
  8. Saying “Merry Christmas” in this island state is “Mele Kalikimaka.” Name the state. Hawaii
  9. In Barrow, a town in this northern state, residents experience 67 days of darkness during the winter, from November 18 to January 23. This means that Christmas Day is pitch black. What state is this? Alaska
  10. If you were to celebrate midnight of New Year’s Eve in each of America’s time zones, how many times would you celebrate? Six


“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson


“From Atlantic to Pacific” was written by Haley Burress. Copyright 2016 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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