As the leaves finish falling off the trees, our thoughts become focused on the upcoming holidays: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. For many there is a certain amount of nostalgia as we remember our childhood excitement in celebrating these holidays. This probably one of the reasons the movie, “A Christmas Story,” is so popular year after year. It is a wonderful legacy to have good memories of holidays past, but as children grow up and start families of their own or elderly parents become incapacitated, the traditions of past holidays often need to change. So, how do we cope when old holiday traditions must give way to new forms of celebration?
Probably the most important thing to remember is that holidays are times for family bonding. Even though family members may be physically separated, the technology available today, both phone and video conferencing, can help bring families together on these special days. It can also be comforting to elderly parents to know that special dishes for holiday meals and other seasonal rituals are being passed from one generation to another.
As family members make plans that involve changes, strive to keep an open mind and be flexible. If Aunt Grace has “downsized” and can’t host the usual sit-down feast, consider having an informal buffet where everyone brings a dish to share. Large gatherings can be a lot of work for the host. How about using disposable place settings to eliminate the dishwashing burden? Does the holiday event have to be food-centered? One family we know has a light meal together, then goes bowling, forming intergenerational teams which compete for a silly prize. Maybe the best and easiest plan turns out to be going out together to a restaurant for dinner. Don’t forget to save these new memories with photos or home movies for the younger generation to look back on in the future.
Recognize that variety, while initially disconcerting, can be low risk. Just because you try something different for one holiday, does not make it the new “cast in stone” tradition. Next year there may be an alternate plan that better meets family members’ needs.
So, as you look forward to the upcoming holidays, include your extended family, as well as your nuclear family, in your plans. Most importantly, make it a joyous occasion for the whole family. At some point you’re sure to hear someone say, “Remember the year we. . .”
Elder Care Coordinatior