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Garrison, I am curious what

January 27, 2006 |

I am curious what a "grave blanket" is. I saw a local florist create a spectacular arrangement of evergreens, ribbons, artificial flowers, and other decorative stuff, and he explained that it was a grave blanket, which he said is primarily a mid-west custom and was brought to Minnesota by the Scandanavians who settled there. It is not seen in any other part of the country, and is viewed as a way to keep a grave "warm".

As a Protestant minister, I understand earthly death to be a fairly cold thing and no amount of evergreen is going to change that. Wondering what your thoughts would be on such a thing. Keep up the good work!

Mary Jo Bray
Wauseon, Ohio

Mary Jo, I asked Holly Harden about grave blankets, she being a writer and colleague who knows more about real small towns than I do, and this is her reply:

Traditional grave blankets have been around for years, and are made from live pine branches, pine cones, baby's breath, and ribbons or bows. A grave blanket might have a centerpiece representing something special about a loved one -- a special occasion or hobby, a favorite pet or talent.

History tells us they were used to decorate grave sites in the winter, when flowers were not available or too fragile to withstand the bitter cold. Traditional grave blankets were used in the late fall and winter and were most popular during the Christmas season. They are designed for decorating the grave site for a short time and are then removed after the holidays. They are to the grave what the wreath is to the door.

In recent years, grave blankets have been used throughout the year, often to commemorate the birthday of the deceased, an anniversary, Mother's Day, etc. The use of the grave blanket is not exclusive to any part of the country, though they were first used in colder areas.

In smaller towns where the temp drops below freezing, a real blanket might be placed on a gravesite to keep the ground from freezing a few days before a funeral. This should not be confused with the use of the pine grave blanket described above, whose purpose is mainly decorative. Placing a real blanket on a grave is more a practical thing, and not custom or common, even, but one of those "let's hope this works" things that might save a man the struggle of cutting through frozen earth in January, or, throughout the course of a day, piling hot coals on a grave in order to soften the earth for the digging.

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