Sunday, December 18, 2011

Grave Decorations - Christmas in the Cemetery

For the special season of Christmas, I’m putting aside my usual erudite, logical, and authoritative prose (stop laughing, I can HEAR you) – to examine why people decorate graves at Christmas. As opposed to just asking them, I’m going to just tell you what I think. It’s far less complicated that way.
Of all the holes that may exist in your life, driving through a cemetery at Christmas time can identify a big one. It reminds you of things to come, while making you glad you’re not there yet. That said, a cemetery at Xmas may be the only physical entity that Heisenberg didn’t account for, when he wrote that the simple presence of an observer changes things. Do you really think your presence in a cemetery ever changes it? How about the act of setting up and decorating a full-sized Christmas tree? If anything, it makes the whole thing even more depressing.

A cemetery is a figurative rock (filled with actual rocks) − an impenetrable fortress of stone built by an equally strong belief system. Author Salman Rushdie might refer to a cemetery as an “ironclad citadel of traditions and certainties." Christmas is another tradition, a very strong one for us mackerel-snappers (as an old Jewish guy friend of mine used to call Christians). So why not tie the two together? Surely the florists and garden centers would have us believe that everyone needs a “grave blanket,” or a wreath for the mausoleum door. Give ‘em points for trying, but they haven’t influenced mass behavior anything like the Hallmark card company has. Decorating graves at Christmas seems to have not quite gone public.

I guess the guerilla florists who set up in parking lots target Christians because it’s such a widely-celebrated Christian holiday. Maybe we’re more gullible? Why else would we decorate graves with Santas and reindeer? Hanukkah is a week before Christmas, yet I don’t see the florists hawking sparkling blue menorahs or cute little foam dreidels with which to decorate Jewish children’s graves (in fact, I’ve never even seen a Jewish grave decorated for Hanukkah). Since we haven’t all succumbed to the commercial brainwash, there must be something very personal about placing Christmas decorations on graves. I've even seen poinsettias and wreaths on graves in abandoned cemeteries! Makes you realize that even though a cemetery may be abandoned, not all of its residents may be.

Christmas is of course a Christian holiday, and Christians decorate their homes and malls to make everything feel more cozy − but why cemeteries? To include their departed loved ones in the festivities? Christ-MISS may just bring to mind all the people we miss.

Grave Decorations

"Remember your loved ones this holiday season with a hand-made grave blanket or grave pillow from Dayton's. Commemorate your beloved's grave with sprays of Blue Spruce and Pine along with waterproof ribbons and bows."

Of course there’s also the flip side of sentiment and honoring one’s memory – that of not letting go. In this respect, the loss just keeps on giving. “We’re in a psychologically menacing month when unresolved emotional conflicts, loneliness and other problems influence our behavior.” (ref) Popular wisdom tells us that more people commit suicide at Xmas than any other time of year. While Christmas can be depressing for many people, this is simply not true (Read more here) - but it’s easy to believe. (Studies have shown this to be the only suicide link to the calendar: more of them occur early in the week and fewer on the weekend.) 
"There's got to be a build-up to the day that Christ was born.
The halls are decked with pumpkins and ears of Indian corn.
Dragging through the falling leaves in a one-horse open sleigh.
Suddenly it's Christmas seven weeks before the day.

Suddenly it's Christmas the longest holiday.
When they say 'Season's Greetings' they mean just what they say.
It's a season, it's a marathon retail eternity
And it's not over til it's over and you throw away the tree."

“Suddenly It's Christmas” by Loudon Wainwright III; lyrics © DOWNTOWN MUSIC PUB LLC OBO SNOWDEN MUSIC, INC.(ASCAP)
According to the folk singer Loudon Wainwright III, this is because Christmas is not a single day that’s celebrated, but an entire SEASON. So if you’re expecting to be sad and alone at Christmas, you won't just be sad and lonely on December 25th – you’ll be sad and lonely for two months. Even Valentine’s Day only lasts one day! A girlfriend of many months once broke up with me on Valentine’s Day. The actual day, right after a nice dinner out. Some people have impeccable timing, you know? But even in such a dismal situation, it’s simply the DAY that may remind you of the event a year later. On the contrary, if your Mom died on December 16th, this occurrence during the Christmas “season” is going to stay with you for many more.
"Christmas carols in December and November too.
It's no wonder we're depressed when the whole thing is through.
Finally it's January, let's sing Auld Lang Syne
But here comes another party shaped like a Valentine."
Which is not to say you're psychologically safe if your Dad died in August, as mine did. Christmas is traditionally when the family gets together. So when you're all sitting down for Christmas dinner five years hence, everyone still feels the empty space left by the missing person. Christmas brings the memory back. Which in some ways, is a good thing, of course. But do you REALLY want to go mucking about with all those Christmas decorations in the cemetery? Maybe it would be best to just drop the spray of pine boughs on your loved one’s grave and go back to life among the living.

And Furthermore .....

How to Decorate a Grave Site

Listen to Loudon Wainwright's "
Suddenly It's Christmas."