For those who have experienced a recent loss, Christmas can be an empty and isolating time of the year.
But realising how important it is for people to be able to remember their loved ones at this time of year, cemeteries the world over are doing what they can to make an already stressful family time much more bearable.
We all know cemeteries are full of traditions influenced by faith, culture and spirituality, so why should Christmas be any different?
In Australia, a country with the happenstance of Christmas falling in summer, many cemeteries decorate their grounds, allow graveside tinsel decorations and host special commemorative events.
Many cemeteries run Carols by Candlelight, and Brisbane City Cemeteries in the ‘Sunshine State’ of Queensland even showed the movie The Santa Clause one evening at its beautiful Toowong Cemetery.
The idea was to encourage families to bring children into the park space to see cemeteries as places that aren’t scary and foreboding places.
The pre-sunset hours were made even more fun with Christmas colouring in and a range of other activities.
Victoria’s Northern Memorial Park holds an annual candlelit Friends with Angels event, in partnership with the Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust.
This year saw a welcome return to people being able to gather after the lifting of Covid restrictions, but many cemeteries still choose to livestream their Christmas events, so people unable to make it along for whatever reason can still join in.
And many cemeteries appreciate that Christmas is a time for children to remember.
It’s for that reason that each year Springvale Botanical Cemetery hosts one of Melbourne’s most emotion-charged annual memorial events.
The Children’s Christmas Remembrance Service is held to mark the tragic passing of young lives and to give families and friends an opportunity to remember in the lead-up to Christmas.
Also, with children in mind, Northern Cemeteries in Sydney invites staff and the community to contribute to the Barnardos Gifts for Kids online campaign.
All toys purchased through the dedicated online platform go directly to children in Barnardos programs, many of whom have experienced abuse, neglect, poverty and homelessness.
Again, with the luxury of fine summer weather, many Australian cemeteries, like Melbourne’s suburban Eltham Cemetery, host special picnics and other group gatherings as a now-established Christmas tradition.
Cemetery staff see the familiar faces returning to observe their traditions and new traditions being formed by families who have a more recently established relationship with the property.
According to Rita Woolley from the Eltham Cemetery Trust, it has also extended to community members who don’t have a loved one to visit, but who appreciate the natural space and its ambience.
“The word traditional is used to describe interment methods and memorialisation, and there is a deeper layer of tradition that exists in the hearts and minds of the many visitors to [our] cemetery,” Rita writes.
Several Australian cemeteries also sell Christmas floral wreaths to adorn graves and as fundraisers for cemetery upkeep.
And for those chillier parts of the world where the idea of a December picnic in the sun isn’t the first thing that springs to mind, Christmas commemorations take other – some would say more traditional – forms.
In the UK, The Friends of Heybridge Cemetery (UK), founded in 1887, hold a Christmas Memory Tree event with mulled wine, mince pies and hot chocolate.
Everyone is welcome to join them for the lighting of the tree and to hang a star on it in memory of loved ones.
The nature and wildlife in and around the cemetery, which runs down to the banks of a canal, makes it a beautiful place to visit lost loved ones.
Over in the US, the Calvary Cemetery at Dayton, Ohio hosts an annual Angel Night featuring tours, music, and food drive for St. Vincent De Paul.
Fifteen angels are illuminated as tours by wagon, trolley and vans are given with music from local groups, including a local barbershop chorus, and carols sing along in the historic St Henry Memorial Chapel.
The New York Times report Christmas Flourishes, in a Trim Green Stillness, tells us that Christmas is the season when cemeteries become homes for many families’ second Christmas tree, where devotion meets tinsel.
They say the challenges for city cemetery officials is finding the right balance between their usual decoration regulations and allowing a bit more over Christmas.
But they’ve found the balance at their more famous properties such as the Holy Cross Cemetery and Mortuary, better known as the final resting place of Bing Crosby, Bela Lugosi, Rita Hayworth and other Hollywood luminaries, which have also become Christmas sanctuaries of sorts.
“The shopping, the dinners, the parties, you escape all that,” said Trina Bailey, 37, on a visit to Holy Cross.
“[But here] it’s comforting. There is a sense of calm. You forget the living world.”
Some Christmas preparations tips:
As OpusXenta wishes all our clients, partners and staff the happiest of festive seasons, here are a few last-minute tips for Christmas business preparations:
- Organise cemetery operating hours and ensure you communicate to all staff
- Ensure customers are aware of any reduced hours or office closure times by updating websites and signage
- Update websites and community news for any services being held within the cemetery
- Use any quiet periods to catch up with inventory orders, and explore ways to innovate or plan for the new year
- Consult with suppliers to coordinate any last-minute orders
- Communicate policy about decorations on graves and memorial locations – what is acceptable, how long the decorations can stay and when the decorations will be removed by cemetery staff.