Tips for Celebrating the Holidays in the Hospital

The holidays bring heartwarming scenes of homecoming and family gatherings, but such plans can be sidetracked by treatment for cancer and related diseases. If you or a loved one need to spend all or part of the holidays in the hospital, consider these tips for brightening the season.

Young patients in Dana-Farber's Jimmy Fund Clinic kick off the holiday season by decorating gingerbread houses.
Young patients in Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic kicked off the 2015 holiday season by decorating gingerbread houses.
  • Learn what’s allowed. Before you get your celebration ideas in full swing, take time to learn whether there are certain items or activities you should avoid. For example, stem cell transplant patients will usually have a weakened immune system, so visitors need to follow some special precautions. The patient may also need to avoid things like non-hospital foods, live plants, and fresh-cut flowers. A quick phone call to the patient or hospital floor nurse can help you get the details in advance.
  • Bring the celebration to the patient. There’s no place like home for the holidays, but a few small touches can help make a hospital room feel almost as good. Small strings of battery-powered holiday lights can lend a festive theme to a room. You might also consider a miniature Christmas tree or menorah. Family photos and holiday cards can also help warm up the room.
  • Enjoy the activities at hand. Hospital staff do their best to help patients celebrate the season, so learn what’s available. For example, pediatric cancer patients and their families at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center look forward to an annual Winter Wonderland party, a weeklong celebration featuring daily visits from magicians, jugglers, elves, and more. Similarly, Dana-Farber traditionally coordinates holiday festivities such as concerts, dance performances, and visits from Santa and local sports stars.
One of the many holiday visits to Dana-Farber: Back in 2013, former Boston Bruins star Shawn Thornton joined Santa for a visit at the Jimmy Fund Clinic.
One of the many holiday visits to Dana-Farber: Back in 2013, former Boston Bruins star Shawn Thornton joined Santa for a visit at the Jimmy Fund Clinic.
  • Get in the mood with a holiday movie. Most hospitals offer laptops or DVD players to patients, so consider watching a favorite holiday movie with your loved ones. If you’re able, bring some comfortable clothes from home. A favorite sweater or pair of pajamas can go a long way to helping you feel more relaxed and settled while you enjoy the film and family time.
  • Stay connected with friends and family. You can still cherish your time with loved ones during the holidays. If you can’t get together in person, use the phone. Or better yet, use your smartphone, tablet device, or laptop to gather everyone together with a video chat service like Skype or FaceTime.


Remember that not everyone will feel like celebrating in hospital, but it may mean a lot to have visitors during this time. It’s easy to get carried away during the holidays, so be sure to keep the needs of the patient at the top of your list. Ask when to visit and for how long, so that energy levels don’t dip too low. Also be wary of the number of visitors. Some patients may enjoy a visit from a big group, while others prefer short visits from one or two people.

If younger children visit, have another support person along to help when kids get tired or need to take a break from the room. It’s great to have them bring along a card or picture to share that can also help brighten the room and the day.