The festive season provides an abundance of opportunities for creative activities for care home residents.

Natalie Ravenscroft, Wellbeing Support Manager from charity National Activity Providers Association (NAPA), whose background includes working as an activity provider in care homes, says “For me, the festive season is the most vibrant, uplifting and busy time for any activity provider. It’s also a time to encourage everyone to be playful, do silly games and songs, decorate and have themed foods. Activities that invoke playfulness sometimes enable people to come out of their shells. There’s lots of scope as you may be approached by carol singers, brass bands and schools from the local community, which want to provide entertainment.”

On the NAPA web site, the free resources section includes monthly downloadable activity calendars full of information about awareness days, activity ideas and recipes for the month of December.

The key to successful activities is to ask residents what they would enjoy. Natalie says “People change, everyone’s a different age and background. Activities will only benefit the residents if it’s something they are interested in, so have a regular meeting to discuss their preferences. Make it a separate meeting, not part of the regular residents’ meeting.”

It’s beneficial for the catering team to have a good working relationship with the activity provider to make the most of these activities. Natalie says “You can do this by having a monthly meeting to discuss activities and see how catering staff can get involved. For example at a yoga session, the catering team may provide chopped fruit and a hydration station.”

For residents with dementia, Natalie suggests what she describes as a Christmas ‘reflective space’. “Set this up in a communal section and include objects that people can touch or move such as baubles, little packaged boxes that resemble presents, pine cones and evergreens – bring a bit of nature indoors. You can include all sorts of Christmas paraphernalia – santas, snowmen, reindeer and so on. This will remind residents what season it is.”

In addition, she suggests printing off pictures, include five questions on the back to do with the image and laminate them. If a resident picks one up and a care worker is passing, this gives them a conversation starter. She says “We often find that care staff want to get involved, but don’t know where to start. This laminated image gives them a prompt.”

Some residents are isolated in their rooms due to mobility issues or illness, so the challenge is how to take Christmas to them. In Natalie’s experience a “seasonal trolley” works well. This can be an old medicine cabinet, tea trolley or general trolley, spruced up with Christmas decorations. “On there would be pictures, objects, poem cards and food. You’d need to know an individual and what their tastes and dietary requirements are. Take the trolley and have a 15 to 20 minute session with them,” she says.

In some cases, depending on the ability of the individual, a baking mix and gloves can be included on the trolley. Natalie explains “If it’s a mix for chocolate chip cookies, residents put on the gloves and experience squeezing and the motion of mixing and put the mixture into a baking tray. This is taken to the kitchen and discarded (according to food hygiene). The catering staff have already baked the cookies so these are brought back to the resident to taste.”

Some residents may not recognise it’s Christmas if they have different religious and cultural backgrounds. Natalie says “You need to think about menus for those individuals. You might prepare a turkey dinner, but what about a menu for Hanukkah? Consider how you might share knowledge about other festivities throughout the season. Remember to have some quiet areas devoid of Christmas decorations and include non-Christmas activities. The online NAPA calendars give plenty of ideas.”

Christmas breakfast clubs provide scope for creativity both in terms of decorations, laminated images and food. Visit different countries round the world and serve Christmas-themed food from each country. Natalie says “What would people in Spain or The Philippines eat for breakfast? It’s a great challenge for the catering team and gives them the chance to come up with something inventive. Invite the care staff to join the breakfast club and catering staff can discuss the food that’s been produced.”

Pop up restaurants in the evening are a great way to engage residents at Christmas, enabling the activity producer and the catering team to work together. Decorate the room, have a themed menu and entertainment.

Natalie says “The idea for this came from a resident I knew who used to take his wife out to dine once a week, but because of her support needs she was unable to leave the building. It really upset him, so I thought we could bring the restaurant to them. We held an Italian night for all the residents. The room was decorated and fabulous Italian dishes were served, highlighting the catering team’s expertise. An operatic singer provided entertainment. The care staff said it wouldn’t work for a particular resident who never sat down to eat and only ate finger food, but at the Italian night, this resident sat down and enjoyed three courses. It demonstrated the impact a changed environment and set up can have on residents.”

Other Christmas activity ideas include cooking classes for mince pies, cheese twists, devilled eggs or how to make festive milk shakes and egg nogs.

A Christmas cake competition encourages residents to have a go at baking a cake. “They can have fun designing the cake, going into the kitchen to ask for ingredients and producing it. It all culminates with a  judging event when the winner is announced.”

NAPA, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, runs a support line for care and activity producers giving advice on how to put on activities as well as ideas: 0800 1585503 available 9am-5pm Monday to Friday or email

To join NAPA and receive the annual membership for £74 instead of £99, use the discount code NAPA25 to redeem this offer.

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