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If Christmas lights catch your eye, but they're not on a house or a store, you may be looking at one of Northwest Indiana’s retirement villages, where the holidays shine.

Twinkling lights

At Wittenberg Village in Crown Point, a full-care retirement community, Clinical Liaison Marriza Negrete may be channeling a Christmas film classic when she says, “We want a wonderful life for our residents.” That includes holiday meals of scrumptious foods.

At Thanksgiving Wittenberg hosts a dinner in every area of the facility. There’s a special meal at Christmas for independent living, assisted living, and long-term care residents, and their families are invited.

Negrete says residents enjoy the annual bazaar that’s also open to the public, with holiday treats and vendors. Residents get busy making holiday crafts and some decorate their doors. Carolers come and lift spirits throughout.

“We’re a faith-based, nonprofit organization, predominantly Lutheran-based, but we cater to all faiths. Our staff pastor is there to provide extra support and talk about the meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas,” says Negrete.

Holiday lights illuminate the campus for residents and passersby. More lights twinkle from trees outside and in the independent living dining area. “We have a huge tree in the center, really beautiful.”

New Year’s Eve sees a countdown with hats, horns, holiday drinks, a themed beverage, and a cocoa bar.

Surprise at Park Place

At Park Place of St. John, Thanksgiving in the Retirement Living community features a full buffet prepared by the in-house chef, and families are welcome, says Beth Cunningham, community manager. In long-term care, residents and their families have a full buffet.

“We know it’s very important to meet our residents’ needs in ways that are familiar to them. We roast the turkeys in each area so residents can enjoy the aroma,” says Cunningham. That aroma is important for memory, and helps make residents want to eat. “They know it’s a special day.”

Familiar activities from home are incorporated at Christmas too. Residents decorate ornaments, a different theme each year, and those go on a tree Park Place sponsors for St. John’s Christmas in the Park event. Park Place brings popcorn and hot chocolate.

The season includes two or three bus trips to see the decorated houses.

And Pathway Church comes a-caroling. “We never know when it will be. Our residents open their doors and some sing along and offer cookies and candies. It’s a really fun evening,” says Cunningham. Crown Point Christian School brings the elementary students in to sing and have hot chocolate and cookies.

In long-term care, family members are asked to bring in a favorite dessert for after Christmas lunch. Staff and residents take part in a gift exchange, and musicians play Christmas songs. The buildings are decorated and the residents decorate their doors.

On New Year’s Eve long-term care residents have a Potluck and Pajamas countdown to 6 p.m. With residents in cozy pajamas, families bring favorite dishes and there’s sparkling juice. In Retirement Living the countdown is to 7 p.m., with noisemakers, live music and special foods and desserts.

New Year’s Day is a full-course prime rib dinner.

”We have a lot of fun,” says Cunningham.

Relaxed fun

Pines Village in Valparaiso has four Thanksgiving dinner seatings for approximately 300 residents and families. “It’s popular!,” says Amy Page, corporate relations director. “Families enjoy coming here and celebrating holiday dinners with Mom or Dad and it’s very relaxed.

“Our community is really decked out for the holidays, including seven decorated Christmas trees,” says Page. Special activities are planned, with holiday concerts and a family and friends brunch: “A huge gathering, and it’s wonderful.” A photographer is there to capture family photographs.

Pines Village hosts its annual bazaar Dec. 7 so residents and their families can some early Christmas shopping from vendors.

While many residents may go home with their families at Christmas, “We have a very festive Christmas dinner here. This is their home, so they can celebrate like they normally did. With our dining and catering services, our residents like to take something to their families like a pie. They may not be cooking anymore but they can take home a fresh-baked dessert.”

Throughout November and December music is in the air with multiple groups performing programs and concerts.

“It’s a season of good will and to be thankful for all we have.”

Songs and dance

Leslie Riley, senior living administrator, says the Holidays at Hartsfield are filled with love and laughter. All the levels of care complement each other with different activities throughout the year, but there’s an added sparkle through the holiday season, says Riley.

Residents enjoy special buffets at Thanksgiving and Christmas and are encouraged to invite family. “It is a wonderful banquet of all the holiday favorites and then some,” says Riley.

As a Continuing Care Retirement Community, each level of care has its own Christmas party. They include a special menu with appetizers through desserts, live entertainment, and dancing. Santa and Mrs. Claus make appearances at each party for pictures with the residents and their families.

“There is always something special going on that keep our residents happy and engaged,” says Riley, including card making and gift wrapping with residents. Staff decorates and bakes with the residents. A giving tree holds residents’ handmade hats and scarves that are donated to St. Jude House in Crown Point. Hartsfield does a food donation. Residents do crafts to give to family and friends or keep for themselves.

Carolers, dancers, and choirs also come to entertain. The community gets involved, too, invited to a holiday open house, “To share shopping and camaraderie with our residents.”

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