Christmas in the Cemetery – Sleep in Heavenly Peace

gateeIt is late on Christmas Eve and the cemetery gate is locked. The rest of Chicago is a mix of holiday activities and wintry winds.

Families are busy with the things of the living, shopping for last minute gifts, Christmas recipes, and attending church services to celebrate His birth.  Hanukkah too is also so special for our Jewish friends. But as we celebrate  we feel the empty space left by the people missing in our lives. Christmas can be  a difficult time for people who have lost a loved one,

bbbuuyyttAlthough going to a graveyard might seem an unlikely activity for the festive season, There are exceptions worth noting. In Finland, hundreds of graveside candles glowing in the snow make a wonderful holiday statement. Placing candles on the graves of deceased relatives at Christmastime is a wonderful tradition.  As many as three-quarters of Finnish families visit a cemetery at Christmas, mostly on Christmas Eve.

grave blanket For many years,  florists and cemeteries themselves offer “grave blankets” or a wreath for the mausoleum door. They 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 . njhgff

You may find other holiday  decorations on graves ranging from small Christmas trees, or even toys. Cemeteries often has rules on how long they can remain or may prohibit them entirely.treee

sleighBack about 1900, Rosehill Cemetery on Chicago’s north side actually had a horse drawn sleigh to transport family to and from the gravesite. An outdoor fireplace offered warmth on cold winter day and offered an afternoon of Christmas music, refreshments and  “holiday cheer“. In a cemetery out east people gather around a 15-foot Fir tree  A children’s choir sing hymns and Christmas carols; a tent holds hot drinks and pastries. The Archbishop blesses the tree, and visitors are invited to hang spherical glass ornaments on the tree in memory of loved ones.

The carol says, “Sleep in heavenly peace”. The Latin, coemeterium or from the Greek κοιμητήριον (koimētḗrion), from κοιμάω (koimáō, translate to  “I put to sleep”) The beloved Christmas carol is well applicable to our cemeteries.  We also seek peace, peace between God and man, peace on earth.

I take this moment to wish you and your family a very blessed Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah, May you find  abundant peace as you remember the family members who have gone before us.  As the words in Silent Night so aptly proclaim, may they “sleep in heavenly peace.”

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