Christmas as a Family

Jill Hyland, activities manager at Walmer Care Centre, explains some of the different ways her care home is celebrating Christmas, by making sure everyone in her family feels truly included.

This time of year is always full of mixed emotions for everyone. Every smell, song, sound and scene means something to someone, and, as we know in dementia care, emotions remain strong for all. When we are preparing for Christmas, we need to take into consideration everyone’s different religions, their values and beliefs, their likes and dislikes, and their favourite traditions. We also need to make sure we include everyone that wants to be included, as well as their families.

At Walmer Care Centre, our Christmas starts in July as we begin our Christmas crafts on ‘Christmas in July Day’, and continue with this through the coming months. Then in November, we get decorating! We have two houses to decorate, and a total of 15-16 trees around the home, so our team starts this activity in late November. The top floor of our care home becomes a little grotto, and everyone gets involved. It is always a family event, preparing the home for Christmas. We see all the trees being made up, branch by branch, while all the residents help with colour sorting of baubles, untangling and testing lights, flattening tree branches out, decorating the trees whilst listening to carols, decorating stockings, card making, wreath making and flower arranging.

“This is their home, and watching them decorate the trees and seeing the smiles of enjoyment is fantastic and so heart-warming.”

Baked with Love

At our home, we try and make the month as busy as possible, to keep orientation to the season and to help comfort others who might find this time of year hard. We have one room which remains neutral with no decoration, so anyone who does not like Christmas or wants a break from all the busyness of the season can go there at any time.

We love making a Christmas pudding and cake together – measuring out ingredients with the cook, with everyone having a turn to add the ingredients, line the tins and stir. These are made at the beginning of December and we decorate them ready for Christmas Day – they are decorated however the family feels they want to decorate them. We always say our cakes are made of love and memories as we reminisce whilst baking. Some of the stories are so wonderful – and some so sad. We hear them all. The smells from the baking of the cake help others who are at the later stages of dementia participate too, as the sensory experience of touch and smell helps them to still be a part of the activity.

“We always say our cakes are made of love and memories as we reminisce whilst baking.”

Sing it Out

School choirs are welcome to the home, especially in December, and they sing their songs so beautifully, getting everyone involved. We then give food and drink to the children, giving the residents and school children a chance to chat about their favourite Christmas music. Musical entertainers also come regularly and do their Christmas set, which is always such a beautiful variety of music, and the local Christmas music bus from a church also visits our home.

The local church does a Christmas service which focuses on the true meaning of Christmas, which we always go to, and our Young at Hearts nursery group do a group together at the local theatre. We also always decorate a tree to add to the tree festival at the local church, and then we all take a trip out to see it.

Out and About

Getting out in the community is really important because it adds to the sense of shared experience and a lovely Christmas spirit. We often visit a few Christmas markets and always make sure to be at any Christmas lights switch-on events. We take everyone Christmas shopping as much as we can, and attend as many of the carol services and Christingle services at our local church too.

Making Our Own Traditions

We recently created something called ‘Elf Day’ which has become a very personal tradition to us all. We spend it fundraising for Alzheimer’s, and it is also an information and support day to help others. Then on Christmas Eve, we have carols by candlelight for the families, and we usually invite the local mayor to join us.

Our Christmas parties include staff dressing up as Santa to give out gifts, party games, crackers, lots of food, and relatives come in to join us. Our home accommodates families through December to come and have dinner with their relatives if they cannot make it over Christmas. We also welcome families to come for dinner on Christmas Day and join in our festivities.

Being Respectful

Christmas is a time to come together, but remember that it is not just a season of rejoicing, but also one of reflection – this helps us with our new year preparation. It also helps us remember the ones who have not made it to Christmas this year, and many previous years before. This is a family and team effort, and we share our own memories of our loved ones on our remembrance Christmas tree – we add their picture every year or a special bauble and decoration from the family. This gives us a chance to stay in touch with the family and reminisce together.

Tips to Make Christmas Season Work

  • Do not overload each day with Christmas events – try and create a balance, so everyone has a choice and gets to be involved.
  • Try and include everyone’s traditions – some may be the same as others, but some may not.
  • Think of the different cultures on your team and in the family – try and include them in the home.
  • Get all the team involved as much as possible – this can be as simple as being there, ready for a hug when needed, as it can be overwhelming for some.
  • Give a list of events to all the families so they feel able to come along to whatever they want, and can be fully involved.
  • Have volunteers and key workers to help with Christmas card writing so everyone sends the cards they want. We always make special cards for the family too, so they are more personal.
  • Accept decorations from residents’ homes/families as this helps personalise their rooms at Christmas and gives a sense of familiarity.
  • Encourage Christmas shopping together.
  • Keep the team jolly as it helps overcome some very sad and emotional days. And look after the teams’ wellbeing as well, as they themselves go through a lot this time of year, and everyone has their own ways to cope.

As the manager, I work on Christmas Day, and I make this a family affair, as my husband and children join me. We go to each family member and offer croissants and Buck’s Fizz, my children give them their presents and stockings from us, and we open them all together.

“It’s a lovely time for all, from start to finish, and best of all, we make our own memories and traditions each year.”