Between magic and wonder, the Seniors Christmas from all over Italy lights up with emotion and warms up thanks to the warmth of the small army of “Santa’s grandchildren”. But, to properly tell a story that is really good for the heart, it’s right to start from the beginning. We all know the situation of the elderly who, for health reasons or because they are left alone in the world, live their lives in the rest homes present throughout the national territory, better known with the name of RSA (Health Care Residences). Here, “differently young” people have the opportunity to share everyday life and receive assistance and care from health personnel and social workers every day. Some of them have a health condition that would not allow them to go home and live independently or with only the help of their loved ones.
Others are left alone, survivors of all the people who have meant something in their lives. For many of them, therefore, Christmas could have a bitter, nostalgic, melancholic taste, or in any case it could not be awaited with the joy and trepidation that everyone normally feels. that’s why the“One More Smile” Associationsince 2004 engaged in mission to be close to the elderly throughout Italy, had a brilliant idea called “Grandchildren of Santa Claus” and which provides, with the close collaboration of the social workers of the national nursing homes, the wish collection of each elderly person, the insertion of the digital “letter to Santa Claus” in a special databaseand the possibility on the part of anyone willing to make a kind gesture of realizing the expressed wish and transforming themselves into the acquired “nephew” of an elderly person from their own city, or who is on the other side of the boot.
“Actually – explains a Luce! Laura Bricolaone of the representatives of the association – our project was inspired by an initiative born in Czech Republic in 2017, which had managed to make 14,000 wishes of seniors come true. So in 2018 we too started, and since then every year there has been a growing number of adhesions from the RSAs from all over Italy, but also from the ‘grandchildren’ who, throughout the national territory, have mobilized because the wishes of Italian grandparents become reality”. Until today 17,000 dreams have come true and retirement homes enthusiastically participating in the initiative have increased to become 324 case in the 2021 edition only.
“I’ve always been great football fan – wrote, for example, Mr Edgardo, aged 89 -. In my youth I played for many years in Switzerland and I was also good. For Christmas I would like to receive, if it is not too much to ask, subscription to Tutto sport, so as to always be updated on the various sports news, especially those concerning my beloved Juventus.” “Hello, I am Silvana – are the words of an 83-year-old lady-. Unfortunately this will be the first Christmas without my adored husband and I would like to be able to stick in my room, next to her photo, a beautiful Christmas wreath, which gives light to the whole room. Thank you very much!”. And again, to give just a few examples, the desire to Maria – 101 years old – is this: “I am a lover of flowers, I have always had many at home and now that I am in the structure I would like to keep a plant on the bedside table of my room to remember the time spent smelling its perfume.”
Mrs. Bricola, yours really seems to be a project capable of giving strong emotions, both for those who express a wish and for those who make it come true. Could you tell us more about how it works?
“We have activated a platform on the site www.nipotidibabbonatale.it in which each residence for the elderly can enter the wishes of its guests. Starting in October each year, older people can tell their story and make a wish. It is a moment of great importance for them, especially around a special holiday such as Christmas, which should be joyful for everyone. Through this project they feel considered, listened to, because even a small desire represents something precious, something that almost always has a story behind it and which, like a kind of magic, someone in the world will be interested in listening to and realizing. It’s beautiful to see a person’s eyes shine with wonder and happiness, when he sees his dream come true ”.
What should anyone wishing to fulfill the wish of an elder do?
“Just connect to our site. The wishes expressed are visible online, in the appropriate ‘wish’ section which contains the name of the elderly person, his age, the place where he resides, and the description of his wish. Let me give you an example: an elder wants to see the story of his life published in a book and asks if there is a nephew willing to print some copies to distribute to his family. Anyone can choose to give a dream like this by clicking on the wish and leaving their contact details; in a short time, a contact person from the rest home will get in touch with the nephew himself to agree on how to make the wish come true”.
Any examples of expressed wishes?
“There are many. Someone asks for small and simple things like a new pair of slippers, a perfume, a warm sweater. Someone else asks to spend a day together or go out for pizza. Whatever the desire, the mediation between the elderly and the nephew takes place through the work of the educators of the rest home. Whenever possible, Santa’s nephew brings his gift in person so that a friendship can be born. Otherwise the package is sent: in this case, if possible, a video call is organized during which the two can still meet. Hence, educators end up taking care of both the elderly and their grandchildren and, I must say, the more the grandchildren feel involved, the more that intense bond is created which allows an elderly person to perceive the warmth of an extended family. Sometimes they write to each other, call each other, exchange gifts”.
Is it always about elderly people alone in the world?
“Actually not. The percentage of lonely elderly people who have a fragile family and friendship network is low. Most have such health conditions that unfortunately do not allow them to be alone at home, and sometimes living with a carer, a stranger in their own home, who perhaps does not understand their dialect, does not make them feel at ease. In this sense, I would like to underline that nursing homes are not places of sadness and abandonment, but vital environments in which operators bring a lot of affection, dedication and attention, and in which the elderly still have the opportunity to socialise, feel good and realize your life plan.
What is the most exciting aspect of your project?
“It is not the gift itself that changes the life of an elderly person, but the fact of knowing that a person has undertaken to buy something for him, a person who may be on the other side of Italy and who has grown fond of to his story. This is a gesture of affection, which is felt and which often moves the elderly and also the people who take care of them. Every year the emotions are extraordinary. Just think that once a girl left Puglia to reach an Apulian lady living in Milan, bring her orecchiette and let her listen to her beloved native dialect again after so many years”.
Can you tell us about the most particular wish that has been expressed in recent years?
“There are several. I can think of a gentleman who asked to be able to fly for the first time and another who was able to go back to the ski slopes. The latter, being seated in a wheelchair, thought it was an impossible dream: but the grandchildren are extraordinary people who activate unthinkable resources; all the necessary precautions have been taken and the wish has been fulfilled. A lady, on the other hand, wanted to go for a motorcycle ride, and she saw a boy arrive in the RSA on a roaring motorcycle. Again, a lady who had been a teacher of Italian, Greek and Latin, asked to return to her high school chair for a day and gave a lesson in front of a class of fascinated and moved high school students.
Another time a gentleman who had promised himself in his youth to wear a red tie in case he graduated, having never completed his studies, asked to be able to receive the tie anyway, to wear it at least once. But perhaps the most moving was the desire of a gentleman who, residing in RSA with his wife, asked to be able to renew his marriage vows. The ritual was celebrated on the terrace of the retirement home and their grandson from Santa Claus gave the wedding cake as a gift. The magic of this project is that often not even the operators who take care of the elderly every day know their most intimate desires, but with the project these emerge, come to life and the elderly person sees his or her uniqueness recognized. In a certain sense, this changes the perspective of the educator and of the entire team, who discover the beauty of a care project that focuses on the desire of the elderly”.