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The most wonderful time of the year? Helping make holidays festive

We think of the holidays as being “the most wonderful time of the year.” And of course they can be. But some people – often elderly people – dread the arrival of the holidays.

For whatever reason – the loss of friends or family members; mobility issues, the anxiety of leaving their safe space in the home – they don’t see opportunities for getting out or participating in all the merriment going on. And that makes their losses loom larger, their frailties seem greater. Their feelings of being disconnected and less relevant to the world around them increase.

The challenge for families and friends, then, is to find ways to help. Logistically speaking, that’s not easy: “The most wonderful time of the year” also happens to be the busiest time of the year. Few of us have time to think about one more thing, let alone take on extra work.

And yet our hearts are full during holidays. We don’t want anyone to be sad or depressed – especially someone we love.

The secret is to plan ahead– to find simple ways to bring love and celebration to those who find it hard to participate. For example, a garland, a string of lights, immediately transforms a room. So do good smells from the kitchen, like hot chocolate or warm cider. With a few quick cues, you can change the atmosphere from lonely to cozy.

Maybe there’s a special holiday mug or plate tucked away. Get some festive napkins. Everything – even a plain old cup of coffee or a peanut butter sandwich – tastes special when it’s packaged for the season.

To help your family member feel a part of the holiday traditions, help them get an activity going. They may want to send out cards, if they’re of the generation where old friends keep up with each other by sending greetings at this time of year. And they’d probably enjoy some mail themselves, so get the grandchildren or neighbors to send them a note or card. It only takes a few minutes and makes a big difference to people who are feeling alone.

Or help bake some simple cookies – you can use pre-made dough and just sprinkle colored sugar on top. And remember, it’s all about packaging, including packaging yourself: Get out your snowflake earrings – and get out theirs, too. Drape a long ribbon around their neck and tell them how great they look (because they will!). And everyone loves presents, so when you stop by, take a couple of tea bags wrapped up, or a half-dozen special cookies or chocolates. Again, these are simple things that can help your family member feel included in the happiness of “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Last year, one person we know figured out how to involve her bedridden mother. She took all her holiday baking over to her mother’s apartment – cookie sheets, flour and so on – which took some schlepping. But she actually accomplished her work faster than she would have at home, where she would have had constant interruptions.

It was a clever way of adapting their family’s Christmas traditions. Her mother loved the smells, sampling the baked goods, but, most of all, she loved being part of the holiday activity.

What you do to make a difference doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated. The most important thing is to be compassionate and patient. Listen and truly hear their stories, remember the happier times you shared. After all, your time, attention and your thoughtfulness are always the best gift and will be remembered well after this gift-giving time of year.