Topics on Aging

By Juan Gallo

How to Include Seniors in the Holiday

December 19, 2022

How to include seniors in the holiday

The holidays are a time to gather with friends and loved ones to share in special traditions. In the bustle of holiday plans and parties, seniors may be forgotten or left at the fringes of the festivities. 

This season, I challenge you to go out of your way to include the older folks in your family or the seniors in your life into your plans. 

Honoring seniors

Inclusion could be honoring the senior in a very simple way. When the family sits down to eat, serve them first. As you’re setting the table, reserve the most comfortable seat at the head of the table for them. 

I’ve seen it where the meal begins, and everyone dives in because they’re hungry. The older person ends up waiting patiently for their turn until everyone else is done serving themselves. 

Simple steps can show respect. You’re honoring someone’s time on this earth, and I think it’s important. God created them before you. They’ve lived longer, they’re wiser, and they’ve lived through more. 

Just as younger kids should look up to their parents and respect them, younger adults should look up to older adults and do the same. I think there’s a cultural impatience in North America for anyone who’s not like you or doesn’t think like you, age-wise. 

It’s also important to give seniors a voice. Take time during the festivities to ask them to tell the family a story about the history they lived through. 

The seniors you know are Holocaust survivors and participants in the Civil Rights movement. They’ve lived through wars that perhaps sent them overseas. It’s a really unique generation that saw such a shift over time. You have an opportunity to hear some of those stories from a first-person perspective. 

I grew up in Miami and Broward County, and I’m always fascinated by local stories. Older people remember the areas where I grew up when they were nothing but dirt roads and cows. To imagine that, it’s very interesting.

You’d be surprised what you’ll find out. 

Including seniors in traditions

Often, holiday traditions focus on creating special moments for children. What if we made a similar effort to create holiday magic for seniors too?

Include your older neighbor in your drive to find holiday lights with the kids. Take them along when you go caroling or attend a holiday event. 

Leave little gifts in their mailbox to find. Or make goodie bags for residents at your closest care center

Deliver a batch of the kid-crafted cookies — you have too many sweets in the house anyway. Or better yet, invite your favorite senior to participate in the holiday baking with your family. 

Invite them to celebrate advent with your family, as you reflect on the hope of Christ on earth. Ask them to read scripture or share an insight from their experience. 

Don’t leave your older family members out of the tradition that’s happening now. If there’s a new family tradition, include them. 

Also, consider the holidays from their perspective. What traditions did they used to keep? How could you help them maintain those traditions, even now?

If you don’t know what traditions are important to them, ask them. 

If they used to cook a special dish or holiday treat, they may need some assistance now. If they’re living in a nursing home, you might have to be creative in how you bring traditions to them. 

However, it all starts with a question to find out what’s important. 

Eliminate boundaries

As you consider how to accommodate seniors into holiday plans, don’t get distracted by their limitations. We never approach a person only thinking about the fact that they have a disability. Their diagnosis does not define them. 

Again, the best way you can include seniors is to ask them questions. Personally, I like questions that start with “what if.”

What if you had no boundaries right now? What if you could do anything you wanted? What if you got the Christmas present you really wanted, what would that be?

“What if” allows the senior to imagine for a moment that anything is possible. They can think, “This is just a roleplay; they’re not really asking.” 

However, sometimes the “what if” questions can open up a very sincere wish that you might be able to fulfill and surprise them. 

Sometimes by listening, you can uncover what they’re really saying. They may be saying that they’re lonely and wish someone was around more. 

And maybe, you could help fulfill that Christmas wish as well.

Read more about:
Juan Gallo
Juan Gallo is the CEO of Heart2Heart Outreach, where he oversees the mobilization of volunteers to provide hope, share love and restore purpose to the lives of the aging population across South Florida.

He also serves as a local pastor and as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University, where he is teaching a course on diversity and aging. Juan has a master’s degree in counseling and psychology and is a licensed mental health counselor intern.

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This blog is a frank conversation about what it means to age in our society.

I want us to consider what a wider range of diverse experiences when we talk about aging. I want to reflect on how we, as a community, want our neighbors and our mothers and fathers and our grandparents to live out their latter decades of life. I want us to consider each one of their voices as we strive to meet their needs.

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