by Danielle Rogers
“Put on your yarmulke, here comes Hanukkah,” sings Adam Sandler in his iconic SNL song. I laugh every time I think about that song. This year, the Jewish holiday comes just a week after Thanksgiving, beginning on the evening of December sixth and ending on the evening of December fourteenth. Growing up in a Jewish family, Hanukkah was always one of my favorite holidays. It wasn’t uncommon to hear my mom, an avid Jewish educator, singing traditional songs like “Oh Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah” or “Sevivon Sov Sov Sov”, which means “Dreidel, spin, spin, spin.” While my brothers opted out of singing, I enjoyed leading the prayers with my mom and lighting the candles each night.
In the kitchen, we gladly helped my mom make latkes, or potato pancakes, the best meal of Hanukkah, in my opinion. After dinner, we would play dreidel in hopes of it landing on the letter gimel, which meant that we could take all of the Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins) in the pot. Then we would gather around the couch as we eagerly waited for my parents to reveal our gifts, usually board games or warm weather clothing. I still enjoy the simple traditions of the holiday.
Planning for Hanukkah was always uncomplicated; my entire extended family celebrates Christmas, so Hanukkah was always very simple. However, planning any holiday can become more difficult when someone in the family has dementia. In addition, planning for Hanukkah may bring up different concerns. Here are some tips to keep in mind during the Hanukkah celebrations:
Think about the times of day when the care receiver feels best. Festivities often occur in the evening; however, if sundowning is a concern, plan some activities for the morning or afternoon. You may also want to shorten any activities or plan in case they get tired or disoriented.
Bring the festivities to them.
A familiar environment will reduce the level of stimulation and allow them to enjoy the celebration. Play a game of dreidel. Leave a menorah in the room as it may provide a sense of comfort or nostalgia. If they aren’t sensitive to flames, light the Hanukkah candles with them.
Use tea lights instead of candles, if you are concerned about fire safety. If they don’t fit on the menorah, you can place them on any fireproof surface. Electric tea lights are another good option if you want to avoid flames.
Food may not taste or smell as good anymore, but you can still engage other senses. Singing is a big part of the Jewish holidays, and traditional songs and prayers may bring comfort to people with dementia.
Prepare and enjoy traditional food, but in moderation.
Hanukkah foods are often very greasy. If you are serving latkes or jelly donuts, limit portions. You can also prepare oven-fried latkes or root vegetable latkes if you want to be more health conscious. In the kitchen, depending on abilities, recruit help with mixing dough or latkes and braiding challah.
Take time for yourself.
Make plans for your own activities ahead of time and recruit additional help when needed. If you usually do all the holiday planning by yourself, don’t feel guilty buying pre-prepared foods or even make an event a potluck.
But most importantly, enjoy the celebrations! As Adam Sandler says, “If you really, really wanna-kah, have a happy, happy, happy, happy Hanukkah. Happy Hanukkah!”
Danielle Rogers is an AmeriCorps volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association Washington State Chapter. She grew up in Chapel Hill, NC and graduated with a degree in Psychology from UNC. In the past, she has been a companion at A Helping Hand, a not-for-profit organization in Durham, NC serving seniors in the community. After her completion of service in July 2015, she hopes to continue working in the field of dementia care.