MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — While health officials continue urging caution over COVID, those with Alabama’s Nursing Home Association say things are much different this season than years past.

Workers and residents at John Knox Manor Nursing Home in Montgomery say this is the first holiday season since 2019 that could be described as “normal.”

With that feeling of normalcy, more visitors are coming to spread cheer — including one from the North Pole.

“This is the first time in what feels like forever that we’ve been able to come back and really have a true Christmas again,” Assistant Administrator Grace Miller said.

Miller says despite a difficult few years where COVID precautions kept many away from vulnerable populations, this year is different.

“We’ve had dance groups, we’ve had choirs, we’ve had people bringing wreaths,” Miller said.

Residents like Janelle Burnette say it’s made their holiday season brighter.

“Everything’s wonderful, just being here, and seeing. I appreciate it and love it. It makes my Christmas,” Burnette said.

However, there are still standard COVID measures in place at John Knox Manor. Miller says they’re still screening visitors at the door and advising anyone with symptoms to stay home.

Alabama Nursing Home Association Communications Director John Matson says among the state’s roughly 230 facilities, things are returning to where they were pre-pandemic.

“For the most part, we’re back to normal at nursing homes. We’re able to have our large gatherings where all of our residents can come together for different celebrations,” Matson said. “A lot of family and friends and community groups can now come back into nursing homes but we’re not letting our guard down.”

Matson says safety precautions are still top of mind but he’s glad to see the change from past years.

The Alabama Department of Public Health advises getting your COVID-19 vaccine or booster if you haven’t already to reduce the chance of severe illness this holiday season.