In the spirit of spreading holiday joy, a heartwarming tradition has taken root at Immanuel’s communities and PACE® centers: live reindeer visits accompanied by “Santa” and “Mrs. Claus.”
The brainchild of Immanuel head office team members Cameo Rogers and Rachel Hoeck, the initiative aims to bring a touch of Christmas magic to residents facing the loneliness of the holiday season.
The idea emerged in 2020 when communities needed creativity to spread holiday cheer while adhering to necessary COVID-19 safety protocols. Cameo and Rachel brainstormed unique ways to bring joy to residents, and that’s when the notion of live reindeer window visits took flight.
The reindeer were from Scatter Joy Acres — an animal sanctuary in Murray, Nebraska. Rachel had seen them during a visit to Mulhall’s garden center in Omaha, and a collaboration developed between Immanuel and the animal preserve.
“We knew this would be a special experience as many individuals have never seen a reindeer in person,” Cameo said. “We hoped that by bringing reindeer — along with a jolly Santa and Mrs. Claus — it would help the residents feel joy during a difficult time.”
The initial reaction to the visits was one of surprise and excitement. Along with their four-legged, antlered friends, the duo traveled to Immanuel’s communities to bring holiday cheer to residents. Since then, the visits evolved as pandemic restrictions loosened, with small gatherings, hot cocoa bars, Christmas sweaters, and even reindeer strolling through the interiors of the communities.
This year marked two milestones: It was the first year PACE® staff and participants could join in the fun, and it was the first time a baby reindeer made its way to a community — Trinity Village in Papillion, Nebraska, and Yankee Hill Village in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“We had nice-sized gatherings for photos and residents, employees, and some guests from the greater community who were driving by and couldn’t help but stop in and see the fun,” Cameo said.
Children, grandchildren, and employees’ families contribute to the lively atmosphere, reacting with awe and wonder at the sight of the reindeer. The gift of “velvet” from the antlers, presented to lucky kids and residents, added a special touch. Team members and residents also engaged in playful attempts to unveil the identity of Santa, and requests for extravagant gifts added humorous elements to the visits.
The benefits of these visits extend beyond the immediate smiles and laughter, Cameo explained. Residents cherish the unique experiences, often expressing their excitement in sharing photos with grandchildren.
“We have a gentleman at one of our locations who tells me every year that he looks forward to this all year round and can’t wait to see these beautiful creatures,” Cameo said. “This year, a family was moving their loved one into a memory support household and was worried about how she would feel when they left. They scheduled her move-in and departure time to coincide with our visit because they knew the day would be full of activity, fun, and positivity.”
As 2023 comes to an end, the live reindeer visits have uplifted spirits and generated lasting memories for Immanuel’s residents, participants, and team members for years to come.