Programming for Nursing Homes can be fun and exciting. First, call the nursing home you would like to play at and find out how long your performance may be and the date on which you may perform there.
If it is a Christmas gig, programming is easy peezy. I recommend that you spend some time finding Christmas arrangements from their generations, such as Bing Crosby arrangements. This gives them a piece of their younger days and gives you a different arrangement to play besides the Canadian Brass standards. Stick to mainly pieces that will give your audience a warm and fuzzy feel and keep pieces such as "What Child is This" to a minimum. I would be cautious in these environments of playing "Rock" music or "Jazzy" type pieces unless you have been there before. Remember that during a lot of your audience's prime, this type of music was still considered forbidden or even Devil Music.
If you perform in different seasons, it might be cool to include top chart hits from various years that came out in the month you perform for them. Maybe even include some good old fashioned parlor music or dance tunes. Compile a book with lots of extras for that gig so that you may incorporate your audience's interest. Interact with your audience and let them live alittle. Perform pieces where they can clap their hands along or sing the words. Keep in mind that some of these people are veterans or were wives of veterans. Patriotic tunes are typically popular among the elderly.The parlor tradition was a big smash in the olden days. Steven Foster songs are a good choice. I would even throw in a few more modern tunes they might like such as John Denver hits or arrangements of pieces from John Wayne or Shirley Temple movies.
Dress the part if you feel inclined. If you have a female member maybe she would be willing to go out into the audience with some make-up and put some blush on willing cheeks while the rest of the group performs pieces that were popular in beauty parlors. Along the same lines, with parlor tunes see if the nursing home might chip in and make some hot tea and pastries for the audience.
As a musician we can take their mind off death, we can take them back in time to some of their fondest memories... we can give them happiness and peace of mind. Something so easy for us means so much to them. Have fun with it and make an event of it!