In some cultures, many people feel that one of the best ways to honour and respect the dead is through decorating their graves with flowers, wreaths, or other symbolic gifts and gestures. Some feel a deep responsibility to complete this task, and think of it as a sign of disrespect if their relatives’ graves go unadorned. This is especially true in smaller communities where friends and neighbours frequent the same cemetery.
While this is a guide on the etiquette surrounding cemetery decorations, those unwritten guidelines are generally trumped by the individual cemetery’s rules. Before decorating your loved one’s grave, make sure you understand the standards at each location. If the rules aren’t available on the website, call or stop in the office to make sure your decorations follow the parameters set forth by the staff. They may also be able to provide a written policy if you email the cemetery superintendent.
You may also be able to determine the general rules by looking at the other graves in the cemetery. If you see that only fresh flowers are used, then you may learn that silk arrangements are not allowed. If you see that there are no displays placed in the ground near the headstone, it is probably a good guess that the cemetery staff usually removes such decorations.
Again, you must make sure you understand the cemetery’s rules before spending time and money on a display. Here are some general rules that many U.S. cemeteries ask you to follow.
- Generally, fresh or silk floral displays are allowed. Some cemeteries only allow fresh flowers. If this is the case, the cemetery staff typically removes the wilted flowers once a week. In some places, silk flowers are permitted in indoor mausoleums. If they're allowed, consider purchasing silk flowers online to make an affordable custom display.
- Funeral flowers from graveside burial services are usually removed in less than a week. Since fresh floral arrangements are typically used for a funeral, those displays are removed by the staff within a week. If you would like to remove ribbons or buds from the displays, it is best to do so sooner rather than later.
- Some cemeteries, like national cemeteries, only allow you to decorate graves around the holidays. National cemeteries allow people to decorate around Easter and Memorial Day. They also allow families to decorate graves for a more extended period around Christmas. Other cemeteries may allow decorations for the previously listed holidays, but they also include Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Veteran’s Day, and All Souls Day.
- Some cemeteries allow loved ones to place items into the ground near the headstone. Floral displays, often shaped like a cross or a wreath may be placed in the ground next to the headstone. One can also buy plastic vases that have a long, pointed stem, that can be placed in the ground, like this cemetery vase from Amazon. Some cemeteries allow such decorations as long as they do not interfere with the work of the grounds crew.
- Some cemeteries allow decorations outside of the mowing season. Maintaining the grounds of a cemetery can be a difficult job. Mourners cannot expect mowers to remove each decoration before mowing and to replace the item after the job is done.
- Some cemeteries do not allow any gifts or small items to be placed on the grave. People leave all manners of things on graves. You may see stuffed animals, small toys, notes, and other personal items placed on graves while other cemeteries have staff that immediately remove such items.
- Some cemeteries allow mourners to plant bushes or perennials. Although this practice is not common in modern cemeteries, some older graves are decorated with flowers and shrubs that return each year.
- Grave blankets can be a beautiful way to decorate a grave throughout the holidays. Some cemeteries may not allow grave blankets so make sure you understand the rules before you follow this tradition.
- Many cemeteries do not allow mourners to attach items to the gravestone. Some may attempt to attach wreaths or floral displays by wrapping them around the stone. This not only makes the stone difficult to read, but it also may be against the cemetery policy.
- Some cemeteries do not allow pinwheels, wind chimes, plant hooks, bird feeders, or solar lights that stick in the ground. Placing those items on your loved one’s grave without permission of the cemetery can be a waste of money and time.