Ideas for Decorating Graves: Giving the Gift of Remembrance

Have you ever visited a cemetary and noticed the gifts, flowers, and ornaments decorating some of the gravestones? Someone is keeping the memory of a deceased one alive.

Grave decorations don’t have to be elaborate. Taking care and decorating a gravesite is an act of love for the living and a opportunity to seek comfort. Decorate in a manner that means something to you.

Florists are always ready to assist with creative ideas for gravestones. There are ready-made grave memorials that can be purchased from shopping stores as well. If you like crafting, you can make your own gravesite memorial.

I encourage you to visit the other article in this series on grieving:

Snowy cemetary with Christmas decorations.
Ideas for cemetary Christmas decorations for graves.

Special cages, frames, greenery, ribbons, etc. can all be bought online to make the base of a grave decoration. Or buy a ready-made real or artificial plant, and tuck in a seasonal memorial ornament or object.

Decorating your loved one’s final resting place can be a meaningful way to honor their memory and keep their spirit alive. I hope you will find lots of unque ideas in this article for the gift of decorating graves.

Symbolic cemetary decorations to use for your memorial

Before I jump into the traditional grave decorations, let me mention some of the more unusual options (or not so unusual).

Often, people will include symbolic symbols as part of grave decorations. Florists make sure that they have these specific grave decorations on hand to add to floral and evergreen arrangments.

In fact, go to a flower shop to find some of the best selection of grave ornaments that you can add to your loved one’s burial site yourself.

The meaning of butterflies

In many cultures, butterflies are commonly associated with symbolism related to transformation, renewal, and rebirth. Their metamorphosis from a caterpillar to a beautiful winged creature is often seen as a powerful metaphor for personal growth and spiritual evolution.

Caucasion man kneeling at gravesite, remembering a loved one - a blue butterfly hovers on the side.
Butterflies are a sign of transformation, renewal, and rebirth.

In the context of loss and remembrance, butterflies are often viewed as symbols of hope, endurance, and the enduring presence of departed loved ones. The appearance of a butterfly is sometimes interpreted as a sign that a departed soul is at peace or as a message of comfort and reassurance from the spiritual realm.

Overall, butterflies are widely regarded as positive symbols representing the beauty of life, the resilience of the human spirit, and the enduring connection between the living and the departed.

The meaning of cardinals

In many cultures, seeing a cardinal is often associated with messages from loved ones who have passed away. It is believed to be a sign that the spirit of a deceased loved one is visiting or watching over those still living. The cardinal is considered a symbol of hope, love, and a spiritual connection to the afterlife.

In some belief systems, the cardinal’s vibrant red color is seen as a representation of life and vitality, and its appearance is thought to bring comfort and reassurance to those who encounter it. Overall, the sighting of a cardinal is often interpreted as a meaningful and positive sign, especially in the context of remembering and honoring departed loved ones.

Asian woman kneeling at a grave; red cardinal flies by.
The cardinal is considered a symbol of hope, love, and a spiritual connection to the afterlife.

Coins on graves

Coins left on graves have various meanings in different cultures and traditions. In some cases, they may symbolize a gesture of respect and remembrance for the deceased. In military traditions, leaving coins on graves can signify a visit from someone who served in the same military unit or a sign of respect for the fallen.

Additionally, in certain beliefs, the coins may serve as a way to provide for the deceased in the afterlife. Overall, the act of leaving coins on graves can carry personal and cultural significance for those who practice it.

I first witnessed this in a Montana cemetary at the site of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Below is an example from another state.

Headstone marking the grave of Andrew Carnegie in the Carnegie family plot in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Admirers leave coins on the headstone as a sign of respect.
Headstone marking the grave of Andrew Carnegie in the Carnegie family plot in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Admirers leave coins on the headstone as a sign of respect. Credit: Tim Evanson, Flickr.

Crystals for deceased loved ones

Many people believe that certain crystals can help provide comfort and support in times of grief and loss. Some commonly recommended crystals for healing and remembrance include rose quartz for emotional healing, amethyst for spiritual connection, and black tourmaline for protection and grounding.

A picture of Buddha in the background, with amethyst rock crystals in the foreground.
Some people turn to crystals in time of loss of a loved one to bring them comfort.

While there are no strict rules about placing crystals on graves, some individuals may choose to leave crystals as a personal tribute or as a way to honor the memory of their deceased loved ones.

It’s important to be mindful of any cemetery regulations or cultural practices when considering placing crystals on graves. Ultimately, the use of crystals for deceased loved ones is a personal choice and should be approached with sensitivity and respect for the beliefs and customs of the individual and their community.

Bringing Christmas to the graveside

When it comes to decorating a loved one’s gravesite during the holidays, there are many traditional options that you can choose from. This includes Christmas lights, decorated Christmas trees, Christmas wreathes and a unique tradition called Christmas grave blankets.

I won’t cover the fascinating topic of Christmas grave blankets here, but it falls into the category of the traditional evergreen, holly, poinsettia-themed Christmas pots that are popular for the season.

To keep this super Christmas-y, let’s focus on the gift of Christmas wreaths and Christmas trees at the gravesite.

Christmas wreaths for graves

Wreaths and floral arrangements are a classic way to decorate a gravesite during the holiday season. You can choose from a variety of colors and styles to suit your loved one’s personality and taste. Some popular options include:

  • Evergreen wreaths with red bows or ornaments
  • Poinsettia plants or arrangements
  • Red and white carnation wreaths
  • Holly and ivy arrangements
Examples of Christmas wreaths for graves.
Pictures of Christmas wreath ideas recently captured in a local cemetary.

Christmas trees for graves

A small, graveside Christmas tree, is perfect to decorate with Christmas decorations. Customizing with objects that are personal to the deceased, is another way to honor their life. Add a string of solar Christmas lights to make it extra special.

This tree is quite elaborate. Always make sure the ornaments are weather-proof and secured tightly to the tree with wire or wire hook. Remember, in areas of snow, ornaments can fall off and become buried under the snow. If that is the case, make sure to visit the grave in the spring to responsibly pick up any damaged pieces.

A small Christmas tree decorated next to a family member's gravestone.
A small Christmas tree next to a loved one’s grave site can become a tradition that you look forward to during the holidays.

Here is another example of Christmas trees for a grave. These trees are simple and elegant. Red and evergreen goes merrily together, sending the message of “Merry Xmas!” without the need of a sign.

Just and FYI, trees would never be planted next to a gravestone. The cemetary would not allow it, and the roots would damage the gravestone (especially for future maintenance). These two trees have been propped up with a Christmas tree stand.

Snow-covered gravestone with two pine tree Christmas trees gracing each side, both with a red bow.
Light snow falls on a snow-covered tombstone in a rural cemetary. The grave is decorated with two pine Christmas trees decorated with bright red bows.

Adding light to graves

Have you ever driven by a cemetary at night to see a light in the darkness? One evening I drove by a cemetary and saw a single light in a vast landscape. It was a bit eerie, but if I traveled by often, it would be a comforting symbol and reminder of my loved one.

There are many options to add light to graves, including candles and solar lights in different forms.

The photo below show a very popular tradition of adding candles to graves in Lithuania on All Saint’s Day. Isn’t it beautiful? You can capture some of that same magic for your loved one.

A tradition of placing candles on graves for All Saint's Day in Kaunas, Lithuania.
A tradition of placing candles on graves for All Saint’s Day in Kaunas, Lithuania. Credit: aivas, Flickr.

Solar-powered lights for graves

Solar-powered lights for graveside decorations have become quite popular. These lights are a safe way to add light to your loved one’s gravesite without the need for electricity. They could be in the form of a religious symbol, such as a cross or angel.

A solar-powered-lantern at night on a grave.
Solar-powered lights for graves are a safe way to add light to a loved one’s grave site.

Options include:

  • Solar-powered string lights
  • Solar-powered lanterns
  • Solar-powered candles

Solar-powered string lights can be used on a small Christmas tree next to the grave, a lighted evergreen basket, or grave blanket.

Seven-day grave candles

Seven-day grave candles, also known as vigil candles, memorial candles, perpetual candles, or are large, glass-encased candles designed to burn continuously for a period of seven days. These candles are often used in various religious and spiritual traditions as a way to honor and remember deceased loved ones.

Lighting a seven-day grave candle is a symbolic act of remembrance, prayer, and spiritual connection with the departed. The extended burning time of these candles allows for a sustained period of reflection and memorialization. They are commonly used in cemeteries, at gravesites, and in home altars as a way to pay tribute to the deceased and to keep their memory alive.

Perpetual candles or eternal lights for graves light indefinitely. Look for a solar-powered memorial light like this one on Amazon.

Of course, the cemetary may not allow open flames on the cemetary grounds, or have bans during drought seasons due to the high potential of grass fires. That is why the solar lights are popular and a lovely gift to keep the focus on a loved one.

Personalized memorials

If you want to create a more personalized memorial gift for your loved one, there are many options available. Any of the following can be customized with a personal message, or picture of the loved one:

  • stones
  • plaques
  • banners
  • benches
  • ornaments

Wouldn’t it be neat to inscribe words that your loved one often said? I would love to walk up to my parents’ gravesite and get a chuckle from an inside joke that only we knew about. I really encourage you to pursue a custom decoration gift, it will feel more meaningful to you when you played a more connected part in the creation of it.

Ideas to decorate a grave bed

It may sound a bit strange, but when I am on vacation, I like to visit cemetaries. Especially cemetaries in different regions of the U.S. and Europe. It’s unique experience to see how the rest of the world pays respect to the dead.

In Germany, the land of beautiful landscaping, gardening skills carry over to cemetaries. It is a tradition to decorate the grave site with much care and love. Just like in the United States, the graves may be adorned with statues, figurines, grave plaques, and solar lights.

Multiple examples of decorating a grave bed, including angels, decorative grave crosses, grave plaques, lighted solar grave lanterns, colored glass pebbles for grave bed, floral arrangements - and a pink pair of flip flops.
Multiple examples of decorating a grave bed, including angels, decorative grave crosses, grave plaques, lighted solar grave lanterns, colored glass pebbles for grave bed, floral arrangements – and a pink pair of flip flops. Credit: Donald Lee Pardue, Flickr.

What I found to be different is that there might be more decoration of the grave bed itself. The family might plant little gardens, like a miniature gardenscape. Midland Stone, a company in Ireland, sells pebbles and glass chippings to decorate grave beds. The grave bed may be covered with colored glass or rock or glass “chippings.” Chippings are non-polished stones that are more rough and in a natural state.

Madison Monuments in Georgia, shows images of “copings” (the stone barrier outline around a gravesite) and how chippings are added for a manicured finished touch. The chippings are fill for the interior of the outline.

*I refer you back to the image of the white bike at the top of this article. It’s a great example of a non-traditional decoration of a gravebed.

A cemetary in Germany. Each cemetary plot is lovingly tended to by family.
A cemetary in Germany. Each cemetary plot is lovingly tended to by family.

More examples of decorated gravesites. Each one is like a miniature garden! My relative explained to me that the cemetary provides water faucets and facilities for the family to tend to the gravesites. In fact, the cemetary was quite busy with family moving about, taking care of the plants and flowers on the graves (plants are actually dug into the dirt, allowed to be living tributes to the deceased family). The German cemetaries are so lovingly kept, that people love to take strolls through them to enjoy the beauty.

The lower left photo in this collage is from Ireland, but another example of a very garden-like grave bed. Credit to Malcom Manners for use of his Ireland cemetary photo. The rest of the photos are closeups of graves in Germany. The photo in the upper-left is a gravesite of cremated remains, which takes up a smaller footprint, but still lovingly decorated with plants.

As you can see, the decorated gravesites are filled with personalized grave stone tributes, grave figurines (angels), soloar-powered lanterns, and special hand-picked stones. What a beautiful gift of love and remembrance to actively keep the grave site decorated.

More examples of how graves are decorated around the world.
More examples of how graves are decorated around the world.

Look past the traditions of your local region to see how people decorate gravesites around the world for the best ideas to decorate gravesites.

A decorated gravesite/tombstone in a cemetary outside of Santuario de Chimayo.
A decorated gravesite/tombstone in a cemetary outside of Santuario de Chimayo. Credit: Señor Codo, Flickr.

Expressing grief for the loss of a child comes in many forms. Catherine (rumpleteaser, Flickr) captures on film Jizo statues that are seen all over Japan. Jizo is considered a guardian of children who have died before their parents. They are often decorated with bibs as seen in the photo below. To learn more about the reasons behind red bibs, visit the Sanpai, Japan website.

Teddy bears and baby blankets are a common tribute left on the graves of children.

Jizo statues in Japan marking the graves of babies marked with red bibs. Teddy bears left on infant and child graves are a common tribute.
Jizo statues in Japan marking the graves of babies marked with red bibs. Teddy bears left on infant and child graves are a common tribute.

Religious and spiritual tributes

If you’re looking for a way to honor your loved one’s faith during the holiday season, there are many religious and spiritual tributes that can be placed on their grave. Here are a few ideas to consider:

Angels and religious figures

Religious ornaments for graves including an ornamental cross and angel figurine.
Religious ornaments for graves including an ornamental cross and angel figurine.

Angels and other religious figures are a common tribute for those who were deeply religious. You can find a wide variety of statues and figurines that represent different faiths, such as a guardian angel or a depiction of Jesus or Buddha. These can be made from a range of materials, including stone, metal, and resin, and can be placed directly on the grave or on a nearby pedestal.

Scripture and prayer plaques

Another way to honor your loved one’s faith is by placing a plaque with a meaningful scripture or prayer on their grave. These can be made from materials such as bronze, stone, or ceramic, and can be customized with your loved one’s name and dates. Some popular options include the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, or a quote from the Bible or another religious text.

Regardless of which religious or spiritual tribute you choose, it’s important to remember that it should be a reflection of your loved one’s beliefs and values. By choosing a meaningful tribute, you can ensure that their memory is honored in a way that is both respectful and comforting.

Grave decor etiquette

From understanding cemetary rules, to carefully picking out decorations that won’t make a mess, keeping graves in order is everyone’s duty.

Understanding cemetery rules

Before decorating a grave, it’s important to understand the rules of the cemetery. Each cemetery has its own set of guidelines, so be sure to check with the cemetery staff before placing any decorations. Some cemeteries may have restrictions on the type, size, and placement of decorations. For example, some may not allow glass or ceramic items, or may require decorations to be placed only on a designated area of the grave.

In addition, some cemeteries have specific rules for the duration of decorations. Some may only allow decorations during the holiday season, while others may allow them year-round. Be sure to follow the rules to avoid having your decorations removed.

Arlington National Cemetary decorated with Christmas wreaths.
Managing a cemetry takes a lot of work. Rules are in place to keep the cemetary a neat, tidy, and respectful place. Pictured: Christmas wreaths on gravestones at Arlington National Cemetary.

Choosing weather-appropriate decorations

When choosing decorations for a grave, it’s important to consider the weather conditions in the area. For example, if the area is prone to high winds, it’s best to avoid lightweight decorations that may blow away. At least take steps to anchor down or add extra weight to the decoration.

If the area is prone to heavy rain or snow, it’s best to choose decorations that are weather-resistant. Understand that your decorations are also out for wildlife to have fun with. They may get eaten, nibbled on, or even pooped on (for some reason, the birds love my niece’s tombstone that is near a tree). Routinely check on your decorations to make sure they are still in good shape!

Some weather-resistant decoration options include artificial flowers, wreaths made of durable materials, and solar-powered lights. These options will not only withstand the elements but also require less maintenance than other decorations.

By following cemetery rules and choosing weather-appropriate decorations, you can maintain grave decor etiquette while honoring your loved ones with a gift of remembrance.

Renee Cavvy
Renee Cavvy

Renee brings over 30 years of gift giving experience to holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, workplace and faith events. Every life moment is cause for celebration or those times in life when we need the "the gift of support". Her mission: Let's all be better in appreciating one another, put an end to meaningless gifts that clutter our lives, and give from a place of love and kindness. This midwest mom (and grandma) offers novel and creative ideas to do gift giving better!