Celebrating in Times of COVID

Celebrating in Times of COVID

Ideas for making the Holidays Special  

Check out the recording of the conversation “Celebrating in Times of COVID“, and hear for yourself all the great ideas shared!

Do you have something to share?  An idea for how you are going to make the holidays special this year for residents, staff and families?
Email your story to Joan.devine@pioneernetwork.net
if you prefer to share a video, we have an easy way for you to do that!  Just click on this VideoAsk, and share your idea.


We know that the staff is going to be the residents’ family even more so than they have been during the holiday season, and that through the holidays, we all need to be entertained and to be engaged.

We all crave that deeper engagement, so how can we facilitate daily meaning/purpose for residents/Elders and staff?

Check out the ideas shared during conversation, Celebrating in Times of COVD.

Holiday Season (applies to all holidays)

  • It is a time to be grateful and ask people about the gifts they have in their lives and what gifts (not necessarily material) they can give to others. Ask simple questions that spark a response and then build off of that response and create a gratitude tree or another way to display it.
  • TimeSlips (Anne Basting) has great, free, creative resources on their website: timeslips.org including the “Beautiful Questions Creativity Guide” that has questions that spark engagement.
  • Another great resource for questions to ask is StoryCorps: storycorps.org . In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, they now have StoryCorps Connect, an online tool that enables you to record and archive an interview remotely using video conference technology.
  • An Elder/resident made a portrait of a caregiver wearing a mask and gave her a superhero-like look and captioned it, “My Hero!”
  • Put Gratitude trees in each area of living and ask residents and staff to fill them out as to what they are grateful for this year.
  • Write acrostic poems with key words like Thankful or Grateful where the word is written vertically and have people think of words or phrases that go along with the theme that begin with the same letter. There can be many poems created this way.
  • Record residents telling family stories, a greeting, or a poem and send to family.
  • Rays of Sunshine is a program developed by Carrie Chiusano and the team from Presbyterian Senior Care Network, in which they asked the community to send cards, notes and letters by mail, email, social media to residents. Students from some of the schools did so as well. Residents in turn send them to the family members with positive sayings. Staff and residents design the backdrops, make signs, and take a photo of resident (possibly wearing a costume depending on the holiday) with them to send to families.
  • Ask residents to help decorate for the holidays.
  • Think of ways to make shared experiences between residents and their families happen using technology and other means. Examples include: planning a Hallmark movie day and inviting families to pick up popcorn and cookies from the care community but watch the movie at home at the same time as the residents; baking cookies at the same time and being able to see and talk to each other virtually while doing it; online shopping over Zoom with family member.
  • Encourage families to do decorations outside resident’s window.
  • Service projects: Examples are residents decorating masks to give to staff and/or residents making cards for staff. Engage in service projects for outside organizations too.
  • Decorate carts for each holiday and deliver that holiday’s familiar treats to residents.
  • Have a Fall carnival for which employees take the games to the residents with goodie boxes, popcorn, and balloons.
  • Use aromas that bring forth the holiday season such as fir, cranberry and evergreen.
  • Celebrate different cultures and ethnicities of residents and staff by learning about their holiday traditions and foods.
  • Ask families or volunteers to do a mural outline on the outside of the windows and Elders paint the inside. This can easily be done and washes away for something different on another day.
  • Use the Signature HealthCare Kindness Cards (print them on card stock) for Elders/residents to pass out to staff when they want to express their gratitude to them. These can be used throughout the year.  You can also create your own customized cards for the seasons, i.e. You are the answer to my Christmas Wish,  You are the Happy in My Holidays, Thankful for Turkey, Pumpkin Pie and YOU!, You’re My Halloween Treat!
  • Gifts can be handmade,  like the watercolor cards Marilyn Edwards sends to residents.  Perhaps you can help residents create artwork as gifts to their family.


  • Go room to room with a pumpkin and ask residents to tell what they are grateful for and write their answers around the pumpkin and then display it and show it to families.
  • Apple tasting – different varieties, cut them up, enjoy the slices and share about them.
  • Provide costumes for residents to dress up for Halloween – make it a whole week event.
  • Ask residents to help make Scarecrows.
  • Have a pumpkin spice tasting and use a diffuser for pumpkin spice aromas.
  • Have a virtual Halloween parade by asking families and other community members for photos of people and animals in costumes to share with residents and staff.
  • Ask staff to wear costumes and go door to door to residents’ rooms with treats and other items.  One community calls this a reverse Trick or Treat – staff is dressing up and giving the residents the treats – candy of course but also pudding cups, applesauce, cheese balls, pencils, etc.
  • Have a car parade with families, staff and others decorating their cars and wearing costumes. The residents can wear costumes and be outside or look out their windows or from their balcony (if they have one) to watch the parade and vote on the cars with prizes given once the votes are in.
  • Ask staff members to dress up, take an orange bag and have their child/children or grandchildren decorate one side of the bag, and place a picture of the child on the other side. Then staff can bring the bags to the residents with treats. Have prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place costumes and the top 5 decorated bags.
  • Hold a Canine Trick or Treat where the residents hand out dog treats. This can be done through a live or virtual canine parade.
  • As families are able to visit, invite them to decorate the resident’s door with them.

Veteran’s Day

  • Make signs with resident’s name and branch of service, laminate them, attach an American flag and put it on their room doors so others can recognize them.
  • Put together and deliver a food gift box to all the residents who are veterans.
  • Ask a dignitary to do something to honor the veterans such as recording a video message and broadcasting it to the residents and/or giving certificates to each resident who is a veteran.
  • Put up large banners around the community thanking the veterans that live there.
  • Ask residents and staff to send thank you cards to the veterans.
  • Create a Veteran’s Board of all of the residents with pictures of them in uniform and display them.


  • Give small Gratitude/Thanksgiving cards to residents and staff with a Hershey’s Kiss attached to express gratitude for one another.
  • Create a “Gratitude Tree” in each area of living and the leaves will be filled out by residents and staff with what they are grateful for this year.
  • Ask the Elders and staff in the community to write on individual feathers what they are grateful for.  They can be put on paper turkeys on a bulletin board or put together to create one set of wings.
  • Create an appreciation video.  Check out the example of an Appreciation Video put shared by Jenni Dill from Chelsea Place, created to recognize and celebrate the contributions of caregivers on the 200th day of isolation.
  • Do a Side Dish Challenge/Tasting Competition
  • Ask residents to help make Scarecrows to place around the building(s)
  • Ask someone to dress up in a turkey costume.

Christmas / Holiday Festivities

  • Angel Tree: put residents’ name on an angel or whatever theme it is and ask staff members and/or other residents to take a name and give that person a Christmas gift. Have someone dressed up as Santa Claus deliver the gifts the day before or on Christmas.
  • As restrictions allow, ask visitors to come to the home and be in a designated area indoors (physically distanced and wearing masks) that will be decorated with a Christmas tree and take photos.  If weather permits, this can be done at an outdoor location.
  • Decorate trees that are on the property with lights and ornaments and have residents involved to the extent possible.
  • Instead of Christmas carolers coming to visit, do a virtual sing-a-long will other communities, schools, etc. Another option is to ask family members to stand outside and sing for the residents.
  • Doorway Christmas sing-a-longs.
  • The week of Christmas and Thanksgiving for our family visits,  make plans to have “treats” for them to enjoy while they visit.
  • Suggest to families that they look for holiday cards and/or ornaments where they can record an upbeat greeting so the resident can listen to it as much they would like.
  • Do a holiday light display on the property and take residents out to walk through it and at the end of the display, give them a holiday treat.
  • Have a virtual holiday religious service, i.e. Christmas, Hanukkah, and invite families to join.
  • Celebrate the 8 nights of Hanukkah with a virtual ceremony lighting the Hanukkiah.  This could be shared with residents on an in-house TV channel if available, or with family via a Zoom meeting platform or on Facebook Live.
  • For holiday gifts to families, take photos of the residents. Staff can help them “spruce up” for the “photo session” and you can set up a place for the photo shoot around holiday decorations.  If you have a staff member who has a nice camera and will assist, that is great, but a good quality cell phone photo will work as well.  Have them printed a local Walgreens/CVS, and if funds are available, purchase inexpensive frames on-line (i.e. Amazon has a set of 17 5×7 frames for $30.00).  Residents can wrap them up.

Dia de los Muertos (All Souls Day – November 2)

Dia de Muertos, The Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, in particular the Central and South regions, and by people of Mexican heritage elsewhere. The multi-day holiday involves family and friends gathering to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and helping support their spiritual journey. In Mexican culture, death is viewed as a natural part of the human cycle. Mexicans view it not as a day of sadness but as a day of celebration because their loved ones awaken and celebrate with them. (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).  Here are some ways that the holiday is celebrated at Providence Mt. St. Vincent in Seattle.

  • Residents and staff share pictures and stories of their deceased loved ones and they are displayed on an alter.
  • A Memory Book with pictures and bios of all residents who have died during the year is also shared at this time.
  • This is an interactive activity, with cutouts of paper available for people to write the names of those they wanted to remember as well as some of their qualities. These are put on yarn, forming a garland around the altar.
  • Ideas for sharing with residents and staff the meaning of the holiday include showing the movie “Coco”  or presenting (even if virtually) a lecture on the social, religious, and cultural aspects of the day.
  • We discovered that it wasn’t only people with Mexican heritage who appreciated the significance of the holiday. So many staff and other residents found great meaning in sharing pictures and stories of their deceased loved ones on our altar. Especially during this time of Covid, when there is little opportunity to celebrate the lives of those who have died at memorial services and funerals, this kind of commemoration is very meaningful.