Christmas in the Cemetery

 christmas1Chicago area cemeteries are a bit more quiet during the special Christmas season. This is in part because the holidays are centered on activities for the living. Families gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus, shop for gifts and a tree, attend church services and family gatherings. Hanukkah too is also a special family time although  under Jewish custom it is not appropriate to mourn on days of celebration and happiness. The holidays are traditionally when all the family gets together, so when we  are sitting down for Christmas dinner, we understandably feel the empty space left by the missing person. The cemetery and that departed family member buried there are less visited than other times of the year.

The cemetery is therefore a quiet place because of a mix of the busy season’s activities and Chicago’s snowy wintry weather.

 For many years florists and cemeteries themselves offered “grave blankets” or a wreath for the mausoleum door. christmas2They are commonly made of a variety of evergreen boughs. Most also have colorful, seasonal decorations such as ribbons, ornaments or pine cones. They seem to have been most popular in the upper Midwest where early settlers went out into the woods gathering pine branches to cover an ancestor’s grave. They seem to be less popular these days, but still create a graveside focal point and a way to reminisce and remember. The grave blanket covers the ground at the base of the grave and symbolizes the caring and warmth that friends and family feel toward the deceased person and gives some level of comfort during the holidays . A smaller version is called a “grave pillow” placed near the headstone.

 . Driving through a cemetery at Christmas time, you will no doubt find other holiday  decorations on graves ranging from wreaths, small Christmas trees, or even toys. Cemeteries often has rules on how long they can remain or may prohibit them entirely.

 Back around 1900, Rosehill Cemetery actually had a horse drawn sleigh to transport family to and from the gravesite. An outdoor fireplace offered warmth on cold winter days.  Other cemeteries outside of Chicago feature  “Come have your picture taken with Santa Claus!” and offer an afternoon of Christmas music, refreshments and  “holiday cheer“

Finally we take this moment to wish you and your family a very blessed Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah, May you all stay well and we encourage you to please take a moment to remember all of our family members who have gone before us.

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