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How We Celebrate the Holiday Season at Evolve

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

Everyone here at Evolve is getting excited about the holidays. At our residential treatment centers, our house managers plan decorations, brainstorm holiday activities, and coordinate special meals with our onsite chefs. They attend to the details that will make the holidays feel special for everyone involved.

We understand that when your teenager is in treatment over the holidays, you want them to have the best Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day possible.

 friends having fun

We want that for them, too – and we do everything we can to make that happen. For practical reasons, holiday days are still treatment days. That means clinically speaking, and according to our licensing, accreditation, and operating guidelines, your teenager will engage in treatment activities on both holiday days.

That’s what’s best for them, in the big picture. And many of our teenagers need that daily support and connection to treatment that allows them to continue to grow, learn, and make progress in their recovery. This not only allows them to keep their treatment momentum going, but also prepares them for life after treatment. If your teen has an alcohol, substance use, or mental health disorder, it won’t magically disappear on holidays. When they’re in treatment over the holidays at Evolve, our counselors and therapists will help them through the emotions associated with the holidays.

Which, if we’re being honest, are always a mixed bag. They’re filled with love, joy, gratitude, and family goodness. At the same time, they’re also colored by family dynamics and history that aren’t always perfect. But that’s okay, because perfect families don’t exist, and we all have work to do.

Enough of that serious stuff!

This post is about how we make the holidays fun at Evolve.

The Feel of a Real Home

We decorate our intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization facilities for the holidays, too – but since those teenagers go home after their treatment day, we know they’ll spend quality time with their family and participate in their traditional rituals and routines with their families or guardians.

That’s why holidays at our residential facilities are a little bit different.

It starts with a core tenet of our approach to residential treatment: the theme for all our residential locations, all year long, is home.

By that we mean that an Evolve residential facility is the opposite of a cold, clinical hospital environment. Our residential treatment centers are all located in residential neighborhoods, in houses modified to make them treatment-friendly and meet local, state, and federal standards for the delivery of essential mental health care, but not modified so much that they stop feeling like comfortable homes where a family might live.

Our houses have large kitchens, communal areas, and dining rooms where our teenagers share meals. We have plenty of room to maintain safe social distance as recommended by public health officials. Also, we decorate for all holidays, not just the December holidays. We change up the mood for Halloween and Valentine’s Day. In spring, we decorate for springtime, and in fall, we switch to fall themes. So, when Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, our house managers are ready – because they’re committed to creating and maintaining a home-like atmosphere year-round.

That’s our foundation: our residential facilities look and feel like real homes.

Now, here’s what we do in our treatment homes to make Thanksgiving and Christmas feel like real holidays:

[Note: we will decorate, cook, or plan activities for teens from any cultural tradition or background. All different traditions are honored, valued, and celebrated as fully as possible.]


The Atmosphere.

We decorate in Thanksgiving themes. We hang tasteful art showing fall scenes with the orange, red, and brown hues of changing leaves. And yes, there will be silly turkeys on the walls. More than one. And of course, the ubiquitous fall harvest cornucopia, or horn of plenty, will be well represented in all locations.

The Meal.

Our on-site chefs prepare special holiday meals – especially for Thanksgiving. Teens will have homemade turkey (or the vegetarian equivalent), stuffing, cranberry sauce, winter vegetables, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. Our chefs have been known to take recipe suggestions from our teens, and they’ll even make recipes sent in by parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles – when practical and possible.

The Activities.

In addition to taking an extra-long time for Thanksgiving Dinner – which will actually happen midday, during our typical lunch time – our teens will go on a special Thanksgiving Day hike. Throughout the day, staff will lead them in gratitude and thankfulness activities. They’ll also participate in a Thanksgiving-themed crafternoon, during which they’ll make special placemats for the dinner table and maybe an old-fashioned hand-outline or pinecone turkey. Remember those?

Family Celebrating Thanksgiving

Family Communication.

During a typical year, many of our residential teens go off site with their parents for the day. Others will communicate with their families virtually, rather than on the phone, so they can see one another. And they’ll have extra time so they don’t have to rush through the holiday feels.

Christmas, Hanukkah, and other Winter Holidays

The Atmosphere.

We decorate in Christmas themes, complete with a tree, safe and treatment friendly ornaments (no glass), tinsel, garland, lighted wreaths on the front door, colored lights, and inflatable reindeer in the yard (or Santa or Frosty, depending on the house), and whatever additional creative flourishes our location managers come up with. Each house will be different, but we guarantee each house will feel like Christmas.

The Meal.

Our on-site chefs prepare a special meal for Christmas, too. Our teens can expect a full, delicious, Christmas Day feast. As with Thanksgiving, our chefs will take requests from our teens and make recipes sent in by family members when practical and possible. The food focus at Christmas is more on the desserts, though. Our chefs will bake holiday cookies, gingerbread people, and all the extras that make this meal special.

The Activities.

During the lead up to Christmas, we’ll do special “crafternoons”  like we do on the days before Thanksgiving. We’ll also make activities available like Christmas-themed word searches, crosswords, madlibs, and puzzles. On Christmas itself – since COVID rules preclude our teens going off-site for the day with family – each location will plan special outings to celebrate the day. Some will drive through Starbucks and get hot chocolate, others will drive through local neighborhoods to marvel at the festive decorations while blasting Christmas carols (windows up to respect neighbors), and some might just buck tradition and get take out from In & Out Burger and replace the carols with Christmas rock and roll.

The specific activity will depend on the location and what’s feasible in the area. For instance, teens at Evolve Calabasas will get their hot chocolate and then do the drive-thru experience at Socal Wonderland, while some locations will hold a pretend slumber party on Christmas afternoon: they’ll get in their pajamas and gather in the common room to relax and watch a holiday movie or two.

Family Communication.

During a typical year, many of our residential teens check out with their parents bright and early and spend their whole day with the family. Others will communicate with their families virtually or on the phone to open any gifts their family sends in. That way, moms, dads, or caregivers can see the look on their teen’s faces the moment they peel off the wrapping paper and see what they got – just like they have every year. It won’t be in person – but it will be the next best thing. And the emotions will be as real, true, and honest as ever.

At this point you might be thinking, “Thanksgiving – good. Christmas – good. But what about New Year’s Day?”

New Year's Resolutions

Don’t worry – we won’t forget New Year’s Day!

We’ll do New Year’s timelines, reflect on the passing year, and set goals for the new year. Admittedly, though, we spend the lion’s share of our holiday energy on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The Holiday Season Matters

We want parents of teens in treatment over the holidays to understand that we will do everything in our power – given the necessities and constraints of evidence-based treatment – to make the winter holidays feel like the winter holidays. During treatment and recovery, we focus on gratitude and thankfulness by default. The holidays are a great time for us to reiterate those themes and lessons.

We know that for a teenager, being away from family and friends during the holidays might not be fun. Nevertheless, we strive to make this time feel as much like home as we can – and plan as many fun activities as possible. Our facility managers take pride in creating a home-like atmosphere in all our residential treatment centers. During the holidays, they know it’s essential for teens to feel connected to their traditions. That’s why our staff does everything they can to embody the spirit of the season. From the little things – like holiday knick-knacks on the mantlepiece – to the big things – like a delicious roast turkey – we create a nurturing environment where our teens feel seen, heard, and valued.

When they come home, be prepared. They may just bring home a new appreciation for the holidays – and teach you some great new ways to celebrate “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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