Christmas time is the happiest, and also the saddest time of year. Those who have lost loved ones during the year will find Christmas hard to cope with, and may be glad when it is all over. Each person, and each family will have their own way of remembering their loved ones at Christmas.
Christmas time comes with so many opportunities to experience associated grief. Decorating the home, giving gifts, certain foods, television programmes, films, family traditions and the writing and receiving of cards can all be too upsetting for some, and also difficult to avoid. Grieving partners and families may decide to make a charitable donation in honour of their deceased loved one to a favoured cause, or to donate gifts as a way of remembrance at this time of year.
It has been a seasonal tradition since the Victorian age to place a wreath on a grave or at a cemetery in remembrance of a loved one who has died. Wreaths are made of conifer branches, holly and ivy. All of these are evergreens which Pagans believe are symbolic of strength, determination, invincibility and immortality. Wreaths are round, and are associated with the Christian belief of the circle of continued life. Many families continue the tradition of placing a wreath or seasonal flowers on the graves or where the ashes of their loved ones are scattered.
Christmas trees are also evergreens, and evergreens are symbolic of continued life. Each year families decorate their trees together; hanging various brightly coloured chosen festive decorations upon the tree’s branches. There are various retailers now selling remembrance ornaments and baubles which can be personalised with the name of loved one, or a picture of the person who has died. These can be hung on the Christmas tree in remembrance of the deceased family member.
Candles and seasonal plants are another way some families choose to remember their loved ones at Christmas. A specific candle is placed in a prominent place in the home and lit of an evening in remembrance of the deceased family member. Candles are associated with religious and spiritual practices, and are also associated with celebrations and remembrance. If a deceased person had a favourite scent, choosing a scented candle in that scent may help the grieving person feel their loved one is still around them. Traditional Christmas plants such as a poinsettia can also be a token of remembrance of a deceased person.
As a professional and journalistic photographer, I personally find looking back at photographs helpful when remembering my loved ones. Photographs capture moments in family history, and looking through photo albums after dinner on Christmas day is something my family do together. The younger members find it funny to see images of people pulling funny faces as well as at weddings and social gatherings. When remembering loved ones at Christmas, it can be helpful to associate humour or their given opinion at this time of year. Remembering their responses to the same Christmas film, or a disliked Christmas song as well as favourite ones really can make a difference, and bring a smile of remembrance.
Christmas time isn’t an easy time for so many people, and getting through it is the main goal for most. However this is achieved is dependent on the individual. Some people may decide to ignore all things Christmas related and stay at home alone, some may choose to go on holiday or stay with family and friends rather than spend Christmas at home. Some funeral directors hold memorial services in churches for the families they have serviced during the year. These are usually well attended and can be nice to some, but aren’t really appealing to non-religious families. Remembering loved ones at Christmas is something everyone who suffers loss does regardless of any religious beliefs. However they choose to do it is personal to each person or family.
For help and advice on bereavement please contact Cruse