“Ugh I have to work Christmas Eve and Christmas day.”Child Whisperer Series: Making the Most of Holidays in the ED
“I hate not being with my family for the holidays.”
“Hanukkah won’t be the same this year if I can’t be with my Dad.”
“New Year’s Eve in the ED, sounds like a blast… said no one ever.”

These are just a few of the comments I have heard over the last few weeks leading up to the holidays. The last one is courtesy of myself. While I complain, deep down I know it’s not so bad. If you look hard enough I have found you can find the holiday spirit all over the Emergency Department. There are also easy tips and tricks to incorporate the spirit in the medicine and care that we provide to our patients.

As Child Life Specialist, we are Santa’s helpers, accepting, sorting, and handing out a plethora of holiday donations so that patients, their siblings and caregivers can have a meaningful holiday in the hospital. The truth is, we have just as much fun being elves and seeing the joy the children feel as they receive a gift from Santa picked just for them. That is the holiday spirit.

For nearly a decade we had a Santa who went around Christmas Eve to visit all the children. He had the perfect voice, the perfect glow. He also wanted to be anonymous to patients, families and staff. In an effort to keep the magic alive, we all played along that this was truly Santa. He passed away a few years ago and one of my co-workers let the cat out of the bag at his memorial service that our quiet security guard was actually “Santa Randy”. He worked with us every Christmas Eve to help patients and their families have a special day. Chances are he had just as much fun as the families. Santa Randy’s successor has honored the tradition and we couldn’t be more grateful for him. That is the holiday spirit.

We were approached a few years ago by one of our doctors that he and his friends played in a band and wanted to play alongside Santa to help make the event more festive. They sure bring a lot of smiles where ever they go in the hospital, especially when the patients realize that the people behind the music are their very own doctors. Giving up a few hours of their Christmas Eve to help the patients, just because. That is the holiday spirit.

While I won’t be spending New Year’s Eve with my family, I will be with my ED family. I’m sure we’ll think of something fun to do with the patients. Maybe we will have children that will want to have a big countdown. Maybe we will make fun hats and shakers for all the patients so they can chime in and play along with the rest of the world celebrating. That is the holiday spirit.

Finding the holiday spirit

If you are working in the hospital over the holidays, here are a few ideas to help you find the holiday spirit.

  • Ask the families what holidays they celebrate. Help make it happen.
  • If you have time to offer, take them to the chapel or join in one of the many hospital celebrations.
  • Play an instrument? Bring it to work and start a band.
  • Help a child follow Santa using Norad Santa.
  • Use some of these fun holiday apps (descriptions below) to play with the families recommended by Common Sense Media.

Holiday Apps

A Charlie Brown Christmas [Link]charlie-brown-christmas-logo

  • Age 4+
  • Pitch-perfect app tribute to the holiday TV classic.
  • Devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire, Nook HD

123 Color: Hanukkah Coloring Book [Link]123colorhanukkahmain

  • Age 4+
  • Language options, holiday focus make this coloring app shine.
  • Devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

Grinchmas! [Link]grinchmas-icon-pi-f

  • Age 6+
  • Grinchy puzzle fun about flinging objects at Whos.
  • Devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

Santa’s Christmas Village [Link]

  • santaschristmasvillagenewmainAge 7+
  • 17 great age-spanning games make this app entertaining.
  • Devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

Happy Holidays!

We have no affiliation, financial or otherwise with any of the products or websites listed.


Kristen Beckler, CTRS, CCLS

Kristen Beckler, CTRS, CCLS

Certified Child Life Specialist
Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford
Pediatric Emergency Department