In many cultures, families, friends, and other visitors find comfort in gathering at grave sites, and some decorate the grave and the headstone. Decorating a deceased loved one’s gravesite is a thoughtful way to pay tribute to them and keep their memory alive. Visiting the cemetery plot and making it look beautiful all year could also help family members and friends work through their grief.
If cemetery decorations for a person’s final resting place appeal to you, this article will give you helpful information for decorating and taking care of a burial site. We’ll start with the basic steps to take care of before you begin decorating your loved one’s headstone or grave.
We’ll also give you some common decoration ideas, creative ways to decorate gravesites on special days, and handy hints on how to personalize the tradition of leaving flowers at a burial site.
Cemetery Decorations – First Steps
Here are some basic steps you must take when you or your family want to decorate a burial site to pay tribute to a deceased person’s life.
#1. What are the cemetery rules?
Although it is traditional to place flowers on a grave, many cemeteries have rules around other types of decorative items. Many cemeteries have strict rules and only allow decorations at the grave for a limited time; some even prohibit artificial flowers. Other cemeteries allow anything within reason.
It’s best to find out the cemetery’s policies around graveside decorations. Don’t hesitate to ask about any policies you don’t understand; it will help you choose the right way to decorate your loved one’s grave site.
#2. Do research
Look online for grave decoration inspiration or visit cemeteries to see what other families did to decorate their loved one’s graves. Find out more about your loved one, their life, and what they enjoyed or felt passionate about. Their likes could open up interesting decoration options like flags, sports memorabilia, symbolic trinkets, and much more.
#3. Fresh flowers vs. artificial flowers
This is a personal choice. If a cemetery’s strict rules prohibit artificial flowers, you have no choice but to use fresh flowers or even a small plant. Whatever you choose, decorating graves should involve elements that the person enjoyed during their life.
#4. Personalize the grave decorations
A graveside tribute should hold special significance, whether it’s the person’s favorite flowers or other special items like wind chimes, an American flag, handwritten notes, or small trinkets with meaning. The item should be meaningful to the deceased person’s life.
Some traditions involve leaving coins at graves, and others prefer decorating them with all kinds of tokens of affection. From trinkets like the person’s favorite candy or a small plant to more elaborate tributes like photographs, stuffed animals, and all kinds of ornaments.
#5. Special accents
Some cemeteries allow people to decorate graves with more than just a headstone and freshly cut flowers. People add accents to give the grave and the ground around it a personalized look. A special accent can be anything meaningful. Some prefer leaving country flags or solar lights at their loved one’s final resting place. You could also consider ribbons, wreaths, grave blankets, stuffed animals, unique coins, small stones, and much more.
#6. Decide on a maintenance plan and visitation
It’s important to visit the burial site regularly to ensure the cemetery plot is maintained, the decoration is up to date, and the area around the grave is clean. The cemetery grounds crew will keep the site mowed and reasonably trimmed, but it’s up to you to do the rest.
If your tradition involves leaving small stones, they’ll likely remove them, so you may need to keep placing more stones with every visit. You can also do things that the grounds crew won’t, like polishing your loved one’s headstone or plaque or ensuring the ground is weed free.
Traditions Based on Country or Faith
Every country and region has traditions and customs related to decorations in cemeteries. In North America, keeping the headstone in good condition and leaving the deceased’s favorite flowers at their grave when visiting is typical.
In Latin America, turning graves into elaborately decorated places where the living can share memories is a common practice. Those of the Jewish faith leave small stones on the grave’s headstone. It stems from a long-standing tradition of covering a fresh grave with rocks to protect it from wild animals and to keep the soul down on earth.
Creative Decoration Ideas for Graves
Here are some ideas you could consider when you want to decorate a loved one’s final resting place.
A floral cemetery saddle
A cemetery saddle is a floral arrangement placed on top of a grave’s headstone. It is affixed to a metal “saddle” with legs that stabilize it and keep it in place on the headstone. The floral arrangement is typically made of silk or other durable material. It is a long-lasting way to decorate the grave.
Solar lights or solar flower arrangements
If you place solar-powered lights or solar floral arrangements on a grave, they will charge during the day and light up every night at dusk. It turns your loved one’s burial ground into an ambient space, even after dark.
You could fill mason jars with strings of fairy lights to create lanterns. Make sure they’re solar lights, so they’ll charge during the day and shine at night. They make a nice addition to other decorations around the gravesite.
Although most cemeteries have strict rules and won’t allow you to visit at night, leaving lights on after dark is a special way to pay tribute to the dearly departed. If you live in an area where it gets dark early in the winter months, solar lights will provide gentle lighting to the ground around the grave, making it a charming decoration.
A personalized flower vase
A vase with a floral arrangement is a common decoration at any cemetery. Adding a personal touch to the display shows love and care. Leaving flowers becomes even more special with a customized graveside vase. You could include an inscription of your loved one’s name or any other words and fill it with any arrangement of fresh or artificial flowers.
Instead of using traditional candles on the headstone or ground around it, you could leave flameless or solar-powered candles. It will bring the area alive for anyone who wants to visit, especially if it has a comforting message.
Personal mementos placed on the loved one’s headstone can add deep meaning to the gravesite. It could be anything the person treasured during their life.
Large and small American flags are a popular choice for gravesite decoration. It’s an excellent way to commemorate your loved one, especially if they were patriotic or served in the military. You can use the flags in any way you choose. Whether you want to place a collection of small American flags all around the gravesite, or one larger flag beside the headstone, it’s up to you.
If your loved one has an affiliation with a particular country, sports team, or organization, you could use a variety of flags to honor the life they lived.
A professional portrait
Have your loved one professionally painted on a thick ceramic tile, flat rock, or another smooth surface. Display it on the headstone or elsewhere at the gravesite as a loving tribute to someone you hold dear.
Customized grave blankets
Grave blankets are not physical blankets. They are seasonal decorations usually placed during the winter months when it’s too cold to leave flowers. A grave blanket is made with evergreen branches and bows. You can customize it with all kinds of foliage.
Seed paper notes
Gather together to visit the grave and let everyone use a small piece of plantable seed paper to write a loving message to the dearly departed. Plant the seed paper at the grave so it can grow into a special tribute. This type of decoration takes a while longer to appear at the gravesite, but it’s a touching way for everyone to remember their departed loved one.
A personalized stone layout
Create a pattern like a cross or a heart with stones and planted flowers over the gravesite. It’s a beautiful way to decorate the grave personally. Look online for ideas for patterns and consider using the deceased’s favorite flowers and other personalized elements like small American flags, painted ceramic tiles, or statues.
If your loved one liked zen gardens, why not put one at the gravesite? Add small stones to decorate the garden once it’s raked. Perhaps the deceased was fond of flamingos or garden gnomes. Feel free to add anything they’d like to your loved one’s grave.
This is perhaps one of the oldest traditions; it even dates back to Biblical times. There are many meaningful ways to incorporate memorial stones with gravesite decoration items. You can choose to have a memorial plaque out of a metal like bronze embedded in the stone or to have a meaningful message to your loved one carved into the stone itself.
Memorial stone bench
A stone bench at a burial site is perfect for those who visit the grave to sit on. You can have the bench customized with a special message, inscription, or quote on a memorial plaque. Plant flowers near the bench so you can have fresh flowers growing in season, bringing brightness to your loved one’s final resting place.
Grave decorations for trees
If your loved one’s grave is near a tree, you can hang a bird feeder and wind chimes in it. Bird feeders attract birds to the area, and the wind chimes will add beautiful sounds to your loved one’s grave.
Grave Decor Ideas For Special Days
You can keep grave decorations in place throughout the year or change them when you and other family members or friends feel like doing so. You may want to acknowledge special days at the grave site. Here are some examples and tips on decorating the grave to pay tribute to your loved one.
Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day
On these special days, it’s all about patriotism, so fresh flowers in red, white, and blue or small American flags at the grave make excellent decoration choices. You could also leave a standing easel of flowers in the shape of the American flag or laminated photos of them and their military buddies at boot camp or homecoming.
Leaving coins has special significance for veteran graves. The military tradition of leaving coins on graves became popular during the Vietnam war. Leaving a penny on a soldier’s headstone is a sign that somebody stopped by to pay their respects. A nickel means the person trained with the soldier at boot camp. A dime means the visitor served with the deceased soldier, and a quarter means they were there when the soldier died.
Leaving flowers at your Mom’s grave is always a beautiful gesture. But you may want to do a little more on Mother’s Day to commemorate that special lady. You could turn a favorite photo into a photo engraved pendant and hang it on the headstone at the grave or plant a small plant as a permanent tribute to her. Another heartfelt idea is to leave a solar-powered memorial candle to light up Mom’s headstone permanently.
Make Dad’s more special on Father’s Day with something that would have made him smile. Perhaps he enjoyed wind chimes, or if he was a patriot who loved his country, a new American flag could be an excellent choice. If Dad loved birds, you could decorate his grave with a bird bath or bird feeder. It’s a perfect way to pay tribute to him while also caring for local wildlife.
If your loved one is deceased, their birthday can be a sad time for family and friends. Paying a visit to the grave and improving the gravesite can help you to process the loss. Some ideas are celebrating your loved one’s life at the grave with a small birthday sign or biodegradable birthday balloons.
You could also decorate the site with personal items that had meaning for your loved one. Whether it’s small stones from their favorite lake, a poem, stuffed animals, or their favorite candy bar, you’ll know what they liked and would have appreciated.
Visit your deceased spouse on your anniversary with a picnic at the grave. Write a loving message on a stone and add it to the grave site, or on seed paper and plant it. Leave their favorite flowers or the type of flowers used at your wedding. Remembering this special day will bring back some happy memories.
Remembering the day your loved one died is difficult. Try to turn it into a day in which you can remember their life instead of mourning their death. It could be a good day to change gravesite decorations every year. Decorate the grave with fresh flowers and other meaningful decorations. Get together with family or friends at the cemetery and have a mini-remembrance ceremony.
Keep it simple by hanging trinkets on your loved one’s headstone, or try more elaborate decoration ideas like a new grave blanket. Do whatever makes you remember your loved one and how they led their life.
Christmas is one of the most memorable holidays for families and friends. Decorate your loved one’s grave to keep the Christmas memories alive. You can add a small Christmas tree to the gravesite with festive, twinkling solar lights. You can leave the solar lights out all year round.
Another common decoration for Christmas time is placing a flower vase with Christmas-themed flowers like poinsettia and amaryllis. You could also use any outdoor Christmas decorations like wreaths, a manger scene, or heavy Santa statues.
What You Should Never Use as Grave Decorations
There are many options to decorate a burial ground to honor your deceased loved one. However, there are five things you should steer clear of. Here they are:
Glass could easily break and leave sharp pieces that could injure someone, especially when it’s out in the elements.
#2. Lightweight decor items
If your decorative items are not secured, they could end up all over the cemetery and cause extra work for the ground crew. It also means the cemetery looks untidy, and you could lose your decorations!
#3. Latex and mylar balloons
Latex and mylar balloons can harm animals. If you like the idea of balloons, blow bubbles instead, use biodegradable paper balls or a garden spinner in colors and shapes that would have made your loved one smile.
Most cemeteries don’t allow grave sites to be fenced off. It creates obstacles for the ground crew and will prevent them from caring for the graves as they should.
#5. Anything against the cemetery’s policies
If you leave anything against the rules, the cemetery will likely remove it and throw it away. Most cemeteries have strict rules, and it’s important to respect them.
Grave Decorations: Final Tips
When it comes to the question of how to decorate a grave or the ground around it, there is no wrong answer. Graves are just as unique as people. Whether you prefer a simple gesture, like leaving small stones on a headstone, like those of the Jewish tradition, or more elaborate graveside decorations as in Latin America, the important thing is to make your loved one’s final resting place a heartfelt tribute to their life.
Here are five final tips to consider:
#1. Make it permanent or durable
When selecting gravesite decoration items, choose materials that don’t tend to tarnish, rust, or disintegrate. Make sure it’s robust enough to withstand the elements.
#2. Consider the local climate
Choose decor items based on the weather. The last thing you want is something to break because of hot or cold weather. It’s also nice to have decorations that reflect the seasons and holidays. Take any Christmas items down after the festive season ends.
#3. Ensure visibility
Keep all items visible and close to the grave so they’re not destroyed by the ground crew doing maintenance at the cemetery.
#4. Honor faith and culture
Gravesite tributes should honor the person’s taste but also their religious beliefs and culture. For example, if the person was Jewish, it’s best not to use a Christian cross at the grave. It could offend the family, and it is disrespectful to the deceased.
#5. Check the grave
Visit the grave regularly to maintain the decorations and replace anything that becomes worn or broken. It also allows you to spend time remembering your loved one’s life and paying tribute to it.