It’s the Holiday Season

The holiday season is a time of hope, joy, remembrance and staying connected with those we love. When our loved ones have passed on, we can still connect to their memory by thinking about them, learning more about their lives and visiting their gravesites. People around the world share in traditions to honor and remember family and loved ones during the holidays.

In Finland, many families visit the cemetery to remember family members by lighting a candle at their grave on Christmas Eve. Snow covers the ground, the cemetery is enveloped in darkness and in the cold the candles are lit, one by one. Peace and reverence is felt as people are together in the cemetery with one purpose. It’s uplifting, serene and a beautiful way to begin the evening activities.

Laying a wreath at the grave is a well-known holiday tradition and a way to pay tribute and honor family members. Since Ancient times, the wreath has represented victory of the eternal spirit over death. Some find comfort in placing a grave blanket over the grave before the first snow storm. This is symbolic to provide warmth and love through the winter. A grave blanket is made of evergreen bows formed over a frame and decorated with winter adornments. We can share in the holidays, honor and remember family members by going to the cemetery, decorating the grave with holiday decor and sharing stories about those family members. Here are some photos showing that love.

In the spirit of remembering and honoring, we’d like to pay tribute to a few people we discovered while browsing Find a Grave memorials. All of these people shared the love of the season through Christmas trees and surely spread good will during their lives.

Eleanor Watanabe, “The Christmas Tree Lady” She loved Christmas trees and loved to decorate them, so decided to do both inside her home year round. She’d work overtime just so she could buy more ornaments. It would take two to three years to decorate one tree. She had over twenty elaborately decorated trees and during the Christmas season would open her home so people could see her creations and share in the joy of the season. Photo credit: Randall M.

Herman Schuenemann, “Captain Santa” During the early 1900’s demand for Christmas trees was very high and Schuenemann would sail his schooner, called The Christmas Tree Ship, north up near Manistigue, on Lake Michigan and bring it back packed full of Christmas trees to sell directly to the Chicago public. There were many articles written about his generosity and how he would give Christmas trees away to those in need. He was a fantastic salesman, hoisting a decorated Christmas tree up the mast and stringing lights from his schooner. It was said that the season hadn’t begun until The Christmas Tree Ship arrived in port. He allowed people to come on board the ship to choose their tree and had been doing so for twenty years.

In late November, 1912 his ship, loaded with other five-thousand trees, did not return on time. Days passed and search efforts did not find the ship, the Captain, the crew or passengers. Christmas trees started to show up on the shoreline and kept showing up for weeks. The Schuenemann family, his wife Barbara and three daughters held out hope but as the weeks passed they realized their father was not returning as tragedy had struck. Chicago rallied around the Schuenemann and other families, as they sold weaved wreaths and salvaged trees from the shoreline, buying all that they could. Barbara Schuenemann, his wife, and three daughters courageously faced the future and continued selling Christmas trees in Chicago until 1933.

Mary Kay Beard went from being on the FBI’s most wanted list to starting the Angel Tree Prison Fellowship program. Mary Kay followed her second husband into a life of crime and ultimately was incarcerated. Over the six years there, during the holidays she would watch other mothers in prison wrap up small bottles of shampoo or soap to send to their children. This stayed with her. She was unexpectedly paroled early and turned her life around, earning a master’s in education. She joined a Prison Fellowship program to see how she could help and was asked to start a Christmas program. Mary Kay remembered the mothers wrapping up what they had to give and the idea of an Angel Tree for the children of prisoners was born. It started with two Christmas trees in one mall, where people could help parents in prison send presents to their children. She connected people, helped families and provided opportunities to serve others. The Angel Tree Prison Fellowship program continues to this day, affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of prisoners and their children.

What extraordinary people to discover and remember! Whether we’re sharing in the traditions of visiting the gravesite, decorating the grave, telling stories about our loved ones or visiting their Find a Grave memorials we’re connecting to their memory and sharing the season. Sending you our best wishes this holiday season!

-Find a Grave Team

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