HOLIDAYS OF YESTERYEAR – December Activity Ideas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Each holiday celebrated in December has a wealth of traditions and rituals that bring a sacredness and nostalgia to the season. As you unwrap the month, slow down with your group in order to appreciate the sentiments behind each tradition. Using the activity ideas below, your group will have a nostalgic and memorable December as you celebrate the holidays of yesteryear.

THE HISTORY OF HOLIDAY TRADITION – Spend time learning more about the history of your group’s favorite holiday traditions. Then, present what you learned in a light discussion group. Ask your group if they can identify which country brought certain holiday traditions to the U.S. Feature holiday traditions from each religious and ethnic group that your members identify with. If you have a history buff in your midst, ask them to lead the discussion or supplement your research.

FAVORITE FOODS OF THE HOLIDAYS – Holiday traditions are often centered around food. Learn more about the favorite holiday foods of your members and prepare a couple of dishes together. Work with your dining team to create a traditional holiday meal and make an evening of it. Invite members to dress up for the occasion. Invite carolers to entertain during the meal. Follow the meal by playing a game of dreidel or watching a holiday movie.

HOLIDAY HEIRLOOMS – Invite members to display their family holiday heirlooms for a special event. Heirlooms could be anything meaningful, such as a nativity set, menorah, ornament, wreath, or similar decoration. Arrange tables around the perimeter of a large room and cover with table clothes. Ask participants to bring their treasured heirlooms to the room before the event starts. Place a chair or two behind or beside each table so that participants can sit during the event. As other members stroll through, encourage participants to share the stories and memories behind their heirlooms. Identify the oldest heirloom, the most original heirloom, and the most delicate heirloom in the room.

HOLIDAYS OF YESTERYEAR REMINISCENCE – The month wouldn’t be complete without taking time to reminisce with your group about their most memorable holiday traditions. Serve mulled cider warmed in a crock pot or hot cocoa. Display a few holiday props to evoke memories. Here are a few reminiscing questions to help you get started. What did Christmas morning look like as you grew up? How did you celebrate Hanukkah as a child? What were your favorite holiday traditions? What traditions did you carry on as you started your own family? Did any traditions stop with you ? Why?

TRADITIONS GONE BY – Sadly, some holiday traditions don’t stand the test of time. Ask your group to come up with a list of holiday traditions that have faded since their youth. Some traditions that are fading include chopping down a Christmas tree from one’s own yard, using actual socks as stockings, caroling through the neighborhood, sending a family newsletter, and making gifts instead of buying them. What else can your group come up with? Discuss reasons why they think such traditions are no longer relevant or important to today’s generation. What new traditions have replaced the obsolete ones?

PAPER ORNAMENTS CRAFTING – Gather glossy magazines, scissors, card stock, glue, glitter, ribbon, and other embellishments. Ask members to peruse the magazines and look for colorful images that they can cut out and turn into an ornament. Once they cut out their picture, glue it on a piece of card stock to add stability. Once the glue has dried, trim the card stock around the picture. Then, enhance the picture by adding glitter and other embellishments. Poke a hole through the top of the paper ornament and tie a piece of ribbon through the hole so participants can hang the ornament on a tree.

A TREE OF THE PAST – Dedicate one holiday tree to an era of the past. Set it up in the activity room where most of your activities take place to add authenticity and nostalgia to this month’s theme. Stick to traditional decorations, such as paper garland, popcorn stringed garland, tinsel, and paper ornaments. Make the paper and popcorn garland with your group as a separate activity.

TRADITIONAL STOCKINGS – Consider filling stockings with traditional stocking stuffers and give to members for a holiday gift. Traditional stocking stuffers included oranges, tangerines, nuts, and gold coins. Keep it purely traditional by filling large tube socks instead of today’s decorative stockings. Another idea is to give away traditional stocking stuffers as prizes for BINGO or other games throughout the month.

COOKIE EXCHANGE – Host a cookie exchange and invite members to participate in a tradition that dates back to the 1930s (at least in print). Host a traditional cookie exchange, where each participant bakes a dozen cookies for every person participating in the exchange. Provide paper boxes so participants can collect their swapped cookies. Simplify the party by hosting a cookie sampling party. Each participant brings one dozen cookies and everyone samples the cookies without taking any home. Serve coffee, tea, and hot cocoa. Alternatively, with your group, select your top three holiday cookie recipes. Then, bake all three recipes as an all-day group activity. Participants can come and go throughout the baking day and the aroma will set the perfect backdrop for reminiscing between recipes. Once the cookies are cooled and decorated, host a cookie tasting party.

HOLIDAY CLASSIC THEATER – Feature a few holiday classic movies this month. Classics such as It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, and A Christmas Carol, are sure to bring back the holidays of yesteryear for your group. Serve popcorn and a warm drink for a cozy afternoon.

CREATING OUR OWN TRADITIONS – While change keeps things exciting, don’t neglect celebrating your community’s holiday traditions this season. At the beginning of the month, sit down with your group and discuss favorite traditions they’ve participated in over the years. If your group or community is newer, now is a great time to start new traditions. Highlight your community traditions in your group’s newsletter or display the history of the tradition on a bulletin board.

VICTORIAN CAROLERS – Invite a Victorian-era caroling group to entertain your group this month. Their costumes alone will instantly take your group back in time. Serve mulled cider and cookies. Welcome families to attend with their loved ones. Distribute reminiscing questions about caroling and holiday traditions for members and their families to discuss while waiting for the carolers to begin.



  1. Stollen is the traditional fruit cake of which country: Britain, Germany, or Switzerland? Germany
  2. According to the song, which reindeer is the most famous of all? Rudolph
  3. Which drinks manufacturer made the concept of Santa Claus popular worldwide in the 1930s? Coca-Cola
  4. What is the ninth candle in the Hanukkah Menorah used for? It lights the other candles
  5. Prior to today’s electrical lights, what did people use to light their trees? Candles
  6. Traditionally, children leave out what snacks for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve? Milk and cookies
  7. Which popular game is played during the eight days of Hanukkah? Spinning the dreidel
  8. Which country has the tradition of filling children’s clogs with candy and treats on December 6: France, Russia, or the Netherlands? The Netherlands
  9. Who played George Bailey in the holiday classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life? Jimmy Stewart
  10. What Christmas-themed ballet premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1892? The Nutcracker



“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” ~ Hamilton Wright Mabie


“Holidays of Yesteryear” was written by Erin McCart. Copyright 2019 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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