Dec 16, 2020
In looking back over the different blog posts and essays I have written this year, I find this phrase staring back at me the most often. It has been difficult as a writer to put into words the scale of tragedy we have seen this year. The number of lives prematurely cut short, the economic toll, and the disruption of our most sacred rituals…these dark events could have never been forecasted. It is a grim task to articulate such trauma at a time when words feel utterly meaningless.
With Christmas around the corner, the loss of tradition is certainly in focus for many of us. For funeral directors who have witnessed so much tragedy this year, being faced with the prospect of not holding an annual holiday event is one of 2020’s cruelest blows. For decades, funeral homes have held holiday remembrance services inviting families that have lost a loved one the previous year to come together. Whether they come to hear their loved one’s name read aloud or to place a memorial ornament on a remembrance tree, that acknowledgment is no small thing. It means the world to so many people who often feel invisible this time of year. We know firsthand how important these events are because there is not a single day in December our Call Specialists don’t speak to a family member inquiring about a funeral home’s holiday service or tradition.
This year, the weight of grief has become so much heavier in the wake of COVID-19. There is no corner of our country that has been left untouched by this pandemic. More than anyone, funeral directors understand how much families are hurting right now. In response to the enormous need for support, many funeral professionals have updated their annual holiday services and traditions to ensure these events could still be held while adhering to pandemic restrictions. From moving remembrance trees outside for the public to safely visit, to holding virtual holiday services, to mailing out personalized ornaments to families who can’t pick them up, funeral directors have stepped up in so many ways in an effort to bring comfort to others at Christmastime.
Here are a few of the ways funeral homes have adapted their holiday traditions in response to COVID-19.
1. Holding Virtual Holiday Remembrance Programs
Stuhr Funeral Home’s Annual Service of Remembrance was held virtually this year.
Before the pandemic, the recording and live streaming of funeral services was a rare occurrence which was not often requested by families. While this technology existed before, only a handful of funeral directors had ever needed to use it. Then, with very little warning, funeral directors were impelled to learn how to put into practice the use of recording and streaming technology for just about every funeral service. It is amazing how many funeral professionals quickly adapted to this completely new routine in order to help their families gather together virtually.
Now, many funeral homes are putting these skills to use again to keep their holiday traditions alive. Many funeral homes have announced plans to hold their holiday remembrance services virtually. This allows families who have lost a loved one in 2020 to feel supported and to hear their loved one’s name read aloud.
Traunero Funeral Home in Tiffin, OH held their holiday memorial program on Facebook Live and then archived the video so their community could watch live or at a later time.
“We just thought that this is the best way with everything going on to protect people and let them remember,” explained Funeral Director, Ernie Hall of Hall Funeral Home in Proctorville, OH in a recent article. “As long as we can, we are going to continue this Remembrance Ceremony. This year, this is the best we can do given the circumstances, but next year, we would like to return to what we’ve done before…It means a lot to our whole family and I think other families appreciate it.”
2. Gifting Personalized Ornaments to Families
Author Steve Maraboli once wrote, “a kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.”
After so many years of working and interacting with funeral directors, this quote has always stuck with me. I think more than most people, funeral directors understand the power and grace of a kind gesture. Every year, they spend countless hours designing and personalizing Christmas tree ornaments for families in their community who lost a loved one the year before. This year due to the pandemic, despite the time and effort involved, many funeral professionals have chosen to mail out their ornaments because they understand how much this acknowledgement means to grieving families.
At their yearly Holiday Memorial Service, Roupp Funeral Home in Mifflinburg, PA always gives out personalized ornaments. Since this years’ service will be live streamed, the funeral home is mailing out the ornaments to each family.
3. Making the Funeral Home’s Memorial Tree More Accessible
A Memorial Tree on display at Hawthorn Funeral Home in Carthage, TX
Holiday traditions and customs take on a great deal of meaning for families who are faced with their first Christmas without a loved one. In addition to providing families with personalized ornaments, many funeral home holiday services will also include the tradition of inviting families to hang their ornament on the funeral home’s Memorial Tree. These trees are set up by the funeral home specifically for this purpose and many funeral directors have shared how much families are comforted by this symbolic gesture. Since the pandemic has prevented funeral homes from allowing everyone to come together at a service for this purpose, some funeral homes have planned an alternative solution.
“After so many decades of bringing this service to the community, we could not let this year pass without a remembrance service in some format,”explained Carlton and Karen Shamburger, owners of Hawthorn Funeral Home in Carthage, TX. “Our décor will be moved and enjoyed in our stateroom areas. This will allow people to come and go without worry of so many people in a public space. The time will be stretched across a five-hour period, giving more intimate time for each person stopping by to light their candle in memory or leave an ornament. We hope the community appreciates our efforts on their behalf.”
While some funeral homes have updated their chapels to create more open spaces so visitors can easily social distance while visiting the memorial tree, others have moved their traditions outdoors. At Sunset Funeral Home in Evansville, IN, featured in the video below, a community tree outside the funeral home is open for anyone to visit and to decorate with a memorial ornament.
4. Inviting Families to Drive-Through Events
Mountain View Funeral Home in Mesa, AZ held a drive-through Lights of Love event that brought more than 200 people safely together to remember their loved ones.
One of the most inspiring and creative ways we’ve seen funeral homes respond to the pandemic’s indoor gathering restrictions is by hosting drive-through wakes and visitations. Now, some funeral homes have taken that concept of a drive through service to reimagine their annual holiday traditions. At Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery in Mesa AZ, families were treated to a spectacular display of lights as they drove into the cemetery entrance. As they drove closer to the funeral home, they could hear the sound of carolers singing and were then invited to light a candle in memory of their loved one. Each family in attendance also received a memorial ornament and holiday cookie. What an inspiring way for a funeral home to adapt to current circumstances in order to bring people together and help families feel supported.
5. Giving Back to Those in Need
Toy donations at Chiampa Funeral Home Sumner House in Shrewsbury, MA
All year round, and especially during the holidays, the generosity and dedication of the funeral profession is inspiring. With so many people out of work and dealing with financial hardship this year, funeral homes everywhere have stepped up to lend a helping hand. Just about every mortuary in the country is currently collecting donations of some sort to help others, whether it be toys for children, items for soldiers overseas, winter gear for the homeless or food for the hungry.
Every year during the holiday season, Graves Funeral Home in Norfolk, VA gives away hundreds of turkeys and side dishes to families who might otherwise go hungry. We spoke with the funeral home staff there who confirmed the funeral home plans to give away 400 turkeys this year on December 23rd. We commend them for their kindness and generosity.
6. Building Outdoor Displays for the Public to Visit
It was love at frost sight when we saw these photos of funeral homes all decked out for the holiday season. When it comes to decorating for Christmas, these guys are sleigh-in it! Clockwise from the top left: Chiampa Funeral Home Sumner House in Shrewsbury, MA; Hanneman Family Funeral Homes & Crematory in Bowling Green OH; F. Ruggiero & Sons, Inc in Yonkers, NY; Paul R. Young Funeral Homes in Oxford, OH & Traunero Funeral Home and Crematory in Tiffin, OH.
This year, it seems that everywhere you go, there are a lot more Christmas lights and over-the-top displays decorating lawns than in previous years. With 2020’s nonstop flood of bad news, many people have turned to Christmas decorations to brighten up the holiday season. At a time when it can sometimes feel like everything fun has been cancelled, decorating for Christmas and looking at holiday displays on drives or walks is a safe winter activity everyone can enjoy.
The wax figure, life-size Nativity scene on display in front of Paul R Young Funeral Home in Mt. Healthy, OH that is beloved by the community.
Funeral professionals have seen so much tragedy this year and understand how starved many people are for a reason to be cheerful. Many have endeavored to create beautiful light displays to delight people who drive by or visit. One of the most incredible examples we have seen is this stunning life-size wax figure Nativity on display in front of Paul R Young Funeral Home in Mt. Healthy, OH. The manger scene has been a fixture in the community for more than 70 years and is visited nightly. In previous years, the funeral home held large holiday gatherings to celebrate the opening day of the nativity scene. This year is different, but the funeral home is still committed to bringing joy to their community. The Nativity scene, complete with live donkeys and sheep, opened to the public on December 12, 2020 and will remain open 24/7 through the new year. The funeral home also hosted reindeer outside their funeral home for children in their community to visit.
7. Helping Kids Visit Santa Safely
For many years, funeral homes have hosted Santa in their chapels so kids in the local area could visit and take photos with St. Nick. This is a great way to help those in the community and especially children associate the funeral home with happy memories. It’s also a wonderful tradition for giving parents a convenient place they can bring their kids to meet Santa, something that is especially appreciated this year as many parents are hoping to avoid shopping malls or other crowded places.
McCrery and Harra Funeral Home in Wilmington, DE offered “Photos with Santa” outside of their funeral home building.
This year, funeral homes have gone out of their way to keep this tradition going strong while adhering to all safety recommendations. In a year when children have had so many of their normal routines and traditions taken from them, it is heartwarming to see funeral homes going out of their way to help ensure the magic of Christmas is kept alive. From hosting drive-through Kris Kringle visits to offering photos with Santa in an outdoor setting, these funeral homes deserve a round of Santa-plause.
Roupp Funeral Home in Mifflinburg, PA held their annual “Coco With Santa” as a Drive-Thru Event.
There are so many inspiring examples out there of different ways funeral homes have gone above and beyond to help families through the holiday season. Our list above just scratched the surface on all the different ways funeral homes have adapted their holiday traditions to better support others during this pandemic. We commend all of the funeral professionals out there who have extended themselves in so many ways to make Christmas brighter for others.
About The Author
Jess Farren (Fowler)
Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess@myASD.com