Christmas at Long Hill

The community comes together to celebrate with the residents.

Front row, from left: Hermine Hull, Sylvia Thompson, and Phoebe Cole Smith Back row: Allan Thompson Cole, Alexandra Thompson Cole, Walker Cole — Photo by Sam Moore

A highlight of the year at Long Hill, an assisted living home for Island seniors tucked away in a quiet neighborhood in Edgartown, is the annual Christmas party. I’m sure many places celebrate the holidays, each in their own way, but I cannot imagine anything more anticipated or planned for than the Sunday before Christmas at Long Hill.

Elizabeth Sandland, who opened Long Hill in 1992, is a former intensive care nurse and overseer of care for the nine residents currently living there. She is also a lover of parties, flowers, dressing up, a hostess who makes sure everyone is having a good time. She fills the house with poinsettias and bouquets, then gives Zima free rein with the rest of the decor.

Zima Flanders, who cooks during the week, collects recipes and ideas for decorations all year. Her files and magazines and notes appear right after Thanksgiving, covering a love seat in the kitchen, her domain. Lights are strung outside first, in trees, around fence posts, shrubbery festooned. Then her attention moves inside to fireplace mantels and the tops of any surface available. Bows and birds, painted branches, tiny and large ornaments, stars and snowflakes. The tree goes up, draped with colored lights, and whatever sparked Zima’s creativity. This year it was big red bows and swags of red ribbons tied and wound through the branches.

Nancy Nevin is in charge of the music, pages of Christmas carols for everyone to sing together. Jeremy Berlin plays the piano, providing a musical backdrop for the party and accompaniment when the singing begins. Nancy is the director, who has all the residents dressed in holiday finery, everything organized. Nancy has worked weekends at Long Hill forever, as well as teaching during the week at the Tisbury School. She was dressed in a sparkly sweater adorned with a Christmas tree pin, and was an enthusiastic leader of the singing, along with Elizabeth.

The whole staff is involved, everyone who works at Long Hill. Setting up, cleaning up, arranging the lavish displays Zima has orchestrated, plus their regular care assignments, keeps everyone busy.

Elizabeth places an ad in the papers inviting the community to participate. It’s always exciting to have people visit, to have their “outside” energy. Of course, family members of many of the residents come from on-Island and off. Babies and grandchildren of residents and staff, grown children, Nancy Nevin’s schoolchildren and parents, folks who come for the music. Friends come, too. Long Hill has been home to loved ones and friends from many Island families. People still come to the party, even many years after the original connection, remembering a mother or father or friend who was a resident at Long Hill.

It’s a wonderful all-hands-on-deck production, a lot of work, and a lot of fun. I expect it will happen again next year, and for years to come.