Christmas Traditions & Dementia

December 19, 2019

Christmas Traditions & Dementia

Bio photo: Arlen Solem

Remembering Christmas traditions, and how we adapt when a family member has dementia

Growing up, my family had its own unique Christmas traditions. The holiday really began on Christmas Eve, though as a kid the anticipation started much sooner. We always went to a Candlelight Christmas Eve service. After the service, we’d return home for our Christmas Eve dinner. We’d have a lot of different foods but there was always a ham. After supper, as soon as the dishes were done, we’d gather around the Christmas tree for presents.

We opened our presents in an orderly fashion. The youngest would pick out one present and open it, then the next youngest, until the oldest finally opened one and then we started back with the youngest until all the presents were opened.

On Christmas morning we we’d find our stockings full of different little things: candy, snacks, a few toys, books or magazines. Then we’d have breakfast. My dad has been poaching eggs since he was about 10 years old and has really mastered it. Using the leftover ham, we’d toast some English muffins, make some Hollandaise sauce out of a packet, and have eggs Benedict. Even as a little kid, I think I usually had at least 3-4 or more!

Many families have Christmas traditions. Those traditions naturally change as kids become adults and have families of their own. Dementia can bring change to those traditions as well.

Families often feel torn on a day-to-day basis when a loved one is in a memory care facility or even at home with dementia. You can’t be in two places at once. People can feel that they are abandoning their loved one when that family member resides in a facility. The feeling of being torn, not being able to be in two places at once, can be even more acute on holidays.

For some families, it is possible to bring their loved one to a family Christmas. For others it is not. For some, while it’s possible to bring a loved one to a holiday gathering, the preparation, care needs and other concerns can add to the stress of what is supposed to be a carefree day. There is uncertainty when someone has dementia – you never know how it will go. Even if the day goes well, there can be cause for stress leading up to the day and even during the celebration.

Not wanting to abandon your loved one on Christmas, yet wanting to attend a family gathering, is a common struggle for many of our families. Bringing a family Christmas celebration to a care facility has its pros and cons as well. A holiday gathering at a facility is not the same as celebrating at home, even if it is still enjoyable.

Some people choose to visit for an hour or two for a Christmas celebration with their loved one. Some stay all day, but then miss out on other Christmas celebrations. Many families are spread out across the state, country and even world making matters more complicated.

Celebrating Christmas on a day other than Christmas is possible but might not feel the same, even if your loved one doesn’t know the difference. You will know the difference.

Remembrances of Christmases past may be both a source of joy and of sorrow. Maybe not all the traditions that were previously shared can be enjoyed in the same way.

Like many things in life, and especially so having a loved one with dementia, there are often only imperfect answers, imperfect solutions. Perfection, in our minds, does not generally include dementia. We try to make the best decisions we can. Sometimes, no matter what we choose to do there is always something missing. Someone missing. Celebrations can have joy and still feel hollow.

I pray that you find joy this Christmas. I pray that you find some peace with difficult decisions and without perfect options. I pray that you know the love of the Christ Child who comes into the world to bring peace.

Reverend Arlen Solem

Chaplain and Campus Pastor


For questions about our spiritual care program, or if you would like spiritual care and support for you or your loved one, contact Chaplain Arlen Solem at 612-554-6379 or

At Emerald Crest, we offer a deep knowledge of memory care in a specialized assisted living setting for seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia-related conditions. We encourage you to contact us directly with any questions or request a tour. For tours and general information, please contact Christine Drasher at 952-908-2215.

Emerald Crest by Augustana Care provides memory care in a unique environment, specifically designed to support those with cognitive issues. Utilizing this exceptional model of care, individuals with dementia, Alzheimer’s and related conditions can flourish in positive relationships and participation in meaningful activities. Memory care is offered in the Minneapolis – Saint Paul area with communities in four convenient locations: ShakopeeBurnsvilleMinnetonka and Victoria, MN.

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I am forever grateful for the care my mother received and for the team approach for her care: staff, family, RAs all working together.

— Pam, daughter of resident