On Holiday Traditions and Important Conversations


As the holiday season brings our families together, we can take the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with the seniors in our families. Here are some tips and resources to get you started.

family generations
Photo by Barney Moss*

In collaboration with SCAN Health Plan, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plans, serving nearly 200,000 members in California. #GatherAndShareWithSCAN

Holiday Traditions

Thanksgiving has come and gone, but the holiday season continues on to Las Posadas for our family. We love this tradition. Over nine consecutive evenings, starting on Dec 16th, we get together to celebrate, socialize, eat, and prepare for Christmas in a very special way.

We usually meet at a different family’s home each night- I have lots of aunts and uncles- where the hosts prepare Mexican antojitos for everyone, serve Mexican ponche, and give out traditional bags of fruits, nuts, and other goodies.

ninos celebrando la posada en Mexico

Along with all the laughter, light-hearted banter, kitchen chaos, singing, and soccer games (on the TV, if not in the courtyard), each evening is a chance for our large family to touch base, take stock of how things are going for each other, and plan for the year ahead. I think maybe that’s one of the reasons I like this particular part of the season so much. It allows us time to really talk about things we might not be able to normally.

Important Conversations

Aunt and niece laughing at a party

In fact, this taking stock, and the sorts of intimate conversations that can follow, may be some of the most overlooked benefits of holiday celebrations. It’s an ideal time to take notice, for instance, of changes in the health or behavior of our older family members. Especially if we live a little farther away.

RELATED POST: Nourishing and Caring for Family During the Holidays

Here’s what I mean: We might see someone we haven’t in a while, and notice changes that those who live closer to them may not, because they see them every day or week. This is a great time to talk with those seniors to see how they’re doing, and to share any concerns or observations you may have—either with them or another trusted family member.

Expectations for the New Year

cups and dishes on a Christmas table

As the New Year approaches, after Las Posadas, Christmas Eve, and Christmas have wrapped up, our family has all kinds of traditions we like to follow. We sweep the house from back to front. We even have a funny tradition involving, dare I say it, colorful underwear. We make New Year’s resolutions. All these traditions provide another opportunity to ask our senior loved-ones about their future plans, their expectations for 2019, especially as it relates to aging in place.

The conversation doesn’t need to be uncomfortable, I think that’s a misconception we sometimes have. We can say, for instance, “’How about you abuela? What’s your New Year’s resolution? Are there any changes you would like to make to your home or living situation in the new year to make you feel more comfortable or safer? Maybe there are some simple changes we can make?”

And then just be good listeners.

Uncle and nephew talking at a party

Three Tips to Listen By

In fact, here are three tips to consider:

  1. Keep an open mind! Remember, these conversations don’t have to be difficult, but you should always be respectful of your aging parents’ or loved ones’ plans, thoughts, and desires.
  2. Be a good listener. While having a roadmap of questions will help you navigate the conversation, ultimately, you’re there to listen.
  3. Follow the Golden Rule. If the shoe were on the other foot, and one day it will be, how would you want your children or prospective caregivers to talk to you?

Have a wonderful holiday season.

Resources for Families with Aging Parents

For more information about aging in place and other community opportunities in Southern California, I wanted to share some links to resources you might find useful.

If you, like many of us, have aging loved ones, I encourage you to read the following articles and check out the resource links for great information and perspective on how to help keep them healthy and independent.

And if you have time to give back to seniors, whether over the holidays or next year, check out the many volunteer opportunities available through SCAN.

Follow the conversation on social media with the #GatherAndShareWithSCAN hashtag.

SCAN health plan logo

Since its founding in 1977, SCAN has been a mission-driven organization dedicated to keeping seniors healthy and independent. Independence at Home, a SCAN community service, provides vitally needed services and support to seniors and their caregivers at no cost.

* Photo by Barney Moss used under creative commons license.  

Silvia Martinez
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