Grave Blankets: A Curious Holiday Tradition

If you haven’t heard of a grave blanket, you’re not alone. This tradition has gone on for generations in parts of the United States, while other parts have never heard of it.

If you’re familiar with evergreen cemetary grave blankets, you might learn something new in this article. I also cover the more modern-day cloth graphic memorial grave blankets.

Let’s take a deep-dive into this cemetary gift tradition, and how you can make it a part of your Christmas or holiday family experience.

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

Table of Contents

What are grave blankets?

Arlington Cemetary in New Jersey explains cemetary grave blankets very simply: “A grave blanket is a seasonal decoration that is constructed of evergreen branches and bows. It is used to decorate the grave for the winter season, and it is not meant as a religious decoration.”

Arlington Cemetary also states that it starts to lay out grave blankets at Thanksgiving, and removes the grave blankets around the second week of January, or as weather allows. Grave blankets align with the usual timeline of putting up and taking down Christmas decorations.

The primarily evergreen blanket gives a winter opportunity to decorate the grave when fresh flowers would not survive.

Kari the Mortician on YouTube provides a nice summary with examples on what grave blankets are.

The term “grave blanket” is a bit misleading. It is a reference to the shape of the grave decoration or grave swag, rather than a physical fabric blanket.

Some people view the planning and laying of the grave blanket as another way to spend time together and remember their loved one, providing comfort to the living.

Wait… what about memorial grave blankets??

Although grave blankets and memorial grave blankets sound similar – they’re not.

A memorial grave blanket can refer to a blanket of fabric laid over the footprint of the coffin location in the cemetary. With the advancement in screen printing, customized memorial grave blankets have gained in popularity.

Beautifully customized blankets can include a photo of the person, or a message. Many people like to add angel wings to the person in the picture. Memorial grave blankets are a nice touch for Mother’s Day, the anniversary of the person’s death, the birthday of the deceased, and other occasions.

The term “blanket” refers to the shape of the fabric, just as it does for the floral arrangement grave blanket version. It’s common for people to connect blankets with comfort – some peope embrace using the term as if they are covering their loved one with an actual blanket.

One cemetary visitor remarked having even seen an actual crocheted afghan placed on a grave. Baby blankets may more commonly be seen, lovingly laid over grave sites.

Make your own memorial grave blanket

Memorial grave blankets can be handmade, which is a great healing activity for the surviving – family. For more information about making a DIY evergreen grave blanket, jump here.

J Stewart’s Labratory provides an excellent tutorial on using Canva to create a memorial graphic. Once you have a graphic, it can be turned into a grave blanket from online print services. Ja-Making Beauty is another Youtube Channel that provides actual sizes to set the Canva canvas up with:

  • Adult 3 ft x 6 ft (36″ x 72″)
  • Child 2 ft x 4 ft (24″ x 48″)
  • Infant 1 ft x 3 ft (12″ x 36″)

When making your own memorial grave blanket you will need high resolution high images (1000 x 1000 pixels) for best results. 

Family First Designs sells memorial grave blankets, stating that they last a minimum of 5 years. It’s not known if that is a continuous 5 years outdoors, or a seasonal 5 years outdoors (I would guess seasonal). Their memorial grave blankets are made with a 14 oz. high tenacity vinyl material that is waterproof and UV resistant and includes grommet holes and metal stakes to secure the blanket to the ground.

Why do people lay grave blankets on graves?

Grave blankets are a way of sharing the holidays with departed loved ones. Thousands of people every year visit a loved one’s grave between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Not only are graves decorated with Christmas grave blankets, but they may even be decorated with Christmas wreathes, Christmas ornaments for graves, and lanterns.

Some keepers of the tradition compare the action of laying of a grave blanket as “covering” a loved one and “tucking” them in with warmth. A grave blanket is simply an extension of love from the surviving family member.

Grave blanket ettiquette and FAQs

There are a few things to consider when jumping into the tradition of grave blankets.

Family considerations. If this is a gift, let the family know your plans. A grave blanket can be deeply personal, and for a full-size grave blanket, there is only one spot. You wouldn’t want to take that honor away from the family.

You can also have a florist send a grave blanket to family in another town or city. This way, they can lay the grave blanket themselves.

How many grave blankets to use? After finding out about grave blankets, I thought it would be neat to do it for my parents’ graves. The next question was, do I put one or two grave blankets on their grave that has a shared tombstone?

Dayton Nursery in Ohio sells “double-wide” grave blankets. The Double Wide Blanket allows for coverage over two adjoining grave sites. It’s simply a single grave blanket that is just a bit wider (about a foot wider).

Personally, I’m not keen on the side-by-side grave blankets, so this might be an option. I’ve always been a DIY person, so I might opt to make my own grave blanket to keep costs under control. Just adding a Christmas grave pillow (a small floral arrangement placed at the base of the tombstone) would be a good, first step into beginner holiday gravestone decorating.

Christmas grave blanket with Christmas ornaments, covered with snow in cemetary.
Christmas grave blanket with Christmas ornaments, covered with snow in cemetary.

Are grave blankets only for Christmas? Although Christmas grave blankets are the time when the tradition is prevalent, spring time and Easter are the next favorite occasions. In warmer climates, fresh flower grave blankets might make an appearance.

Cemetary rules. Most cemetaries have rules about what can be placed on graves, and time restrictions to remove grave decorations. Some cemetaries may not allow any plants, flowers, or grave blankets.

In regards to grave blankets, some cemetaries may have an organized grave blanket program. Grave blankets might only be purchased through the cemetary office and laid out by staff. Or the cemetary office might have a system setup where the family comes to pick up their grave blanket so they can lay it out themselves.

Long distance family may even pay extra to have someone lay the grave blanket and take a picture of the grave site and send it to them.

These are examples of grave saddles, also known as a cemetary headstone decoration.

The cost of maintaining a cemetary. You have to remember that there is a cost to lawn and landscaping care. Laying blankets over grass can kill the grass during the growing season. Stakes that hold blankets down and other grave decorations can get caught in law mowers.

The largest of cemetaries hire crews to remove decorations, as the family might not do it themeselves. Washington Memorial Park ran into costly issues of paying crews to remove grave blankets across 110 acres of the cemetary. They came up with the brilliant idea of selling grave blankets to cover this cost.

Staff of cemetary maintenance crew mowing a cemetary.
Staff of cemetary maintenance crew mowing a cemetary.

Local florists. Local florists may have their own rules about grave blankets. Florists can be quickly overwhelmed with orders in large, populated areas. Having limited sizes helps. They may or may not deliver grave blankets to the cemetary, or deliver them to a designated drop-off spot at the cemetary to comply with their rules. Florists are another good source to answer questions about cemetary rules.

Temporary placement of memorial grave blankets. Some cemetaries may suggest not putting up a headstone for a year at the gravesite. This gives a chance for the soil to settle and become compact. A memorial grave blanket or evergreen grave blanket is an opportunity to respecfully mark the grave before a headstone can be placed. Check with the cemetary to see if this is allowed.

Monument care. Don’t forget that frames and metal holders can scratch granite. Some forms of grave blankets, such as a grave saddle, are placed on top of the tombstone with a clamp. There are even upright grave decorations for mausoleums that require special attachment.

How long do grave blankets last?

Fresh evergreen grave blankets and artificial grave blankets are used for one holiday season – less than two months. They are placed on graves around Thanksgiving and usually removed the second week of January.

Artifical evergreen grave blankets can be reused for many years. However, any artifical silk flowers and ribbons will need to be refreshed in year 2 or 3 as they are more susceptible to UV light rays and fading. Any trinkets or objects not intended for outside weather might only last one season.

The grave blanket “season” is usually dictated by the cemetary. Since the grave blankets are Christmas-themed, it makes sense to remove them in a timely manner (it’s the same sentiment when people get mad at their neighbors for not taking their house Christmas decorations down after Christmas if over!).

Where did the tradition of grave blankets come from?

Kari the Mortician on YouTube, gives a short, and to the point overview of what a grave blanket is. Kari explains that the evergreen-based floral arrangements are most often seen in the northeast states and mid-Atlantic states where there is snow, a tradition brought over from Scandinavia.

Scandinavia is a climate with long, cold winters. Putting flowers on graves in the winter would be impossible, evergreen boughs solves that problem. In the video below, the woman attributes the tradition to Germany.

This video showcases a variety of different types of evergreen in the grave blanket, which adds depth to the design. The creator of this blanket refers to it as a German tradition.

Truthfully, the history of grave blankets in the U.S. is not entirely clear. It is believed to have originated in the northeastern United States, where evergreen boughs were readily available during the winter months.

The tradition of placing evergreen boughs on graves likely began as a way of honoring and remembering loved ones who had passed away, while also adding a touch of festive decoration to the cemetery at Christmas.

Over time, grave blankets became more elaborate, decorated with additional ribbons, bows, and other ornaments suitable to outdoors. They are sold by florists and other retailers during the holiday season, and many people enjoy making their own grave blankets.

How much do grave blankets cost?

As you can imagine, having a 3-4 foot fresh greenery grave blanket, complete with ribbons, decorations, and custom touches won’t be cheap.

Since silk flowers have come on the scene, grave blankets have become more affordable. They can also be reused.

Grave blankets cost an average of $50.00-$100. Places like Arlington Cemetary will take orders, place the blanket on the grave, and then remove the grave blanket in January for that same price.

If grave blankets are customized, they can run over $300 for very elaborate ones, like this customized grave blanket offered on Ebay. According to LOHUD News, families may work with the florist to add customized trinkets or objects that remind them of their loved one/. The families may buy a plain grave blanket and then add more embellishments themself.

Where to get evergreen grave blankets

Grave blankets are readily found for sale in some regions of the United State. Farmer’s markets sell them along with Christmas trees for sale. Another popular source are florists who are located near major cemetaries.

Other sources for artifical grave blankets:

  • Amazon
  • Ebay
  • Etsy
  • Home Improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s

Grave blanket size. Grave blankets are usually anywhere from 30-48 in long in size. There are smaller versions called grave saddles and grave pillows. A grave saddle is placed over the tombstone; a grave pillow is a smaller version of a grave blanket that is placed at the base of the tombstone.

Can I make my own evergreen grave blanket?

It’s easy to make your own fresh greenery grave blanket. Many people might choose this to help save money (especially if this is an annual tradition!).

You will need:

  • Grave basket/frame/ring to push the evergreen boughs into
    (some people also may substitute chicken wire or florist foam)
  • Grave blanket anchors (to keep your grave blanket from blowing away)
  • Ribbon and decorations.
  • Fresh evergreens of your choice.
This florist says that “Fraser Fir” works the best.

YouTube videos can help guide in making your own grave blanket (there’s even one that shows how to make a blanket from dollar store items). Many of the makers grew up helping their parents make grave blankets for family burial sites, and now they have taken over the tradition.

The tradition of laying cemetary grave blankets fascinates me. After reading about the huge popularity in some eastern states, I visited a local cemetary to see if I could snap a photo of any in Iowa after Thanksgiving. Set aside a few Christmas wreaths, there were no sign of grave blankets.

Here is what the search term “grave blankets” yields in Google Trends:

Google Trends map for search term "grave blanket" showing top 11 states for searches: Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Texas, California.
Google Trends map for search term “grave blanket” showing top 11 states for searches: Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Texas, California.

The top eleven search terms are enough volume to get on the map, but there are more states that are on the record for a lesser search volume. Michigan tops the list. As you can see, the warmer states of California, Texas, and Oklahoma also make it in, debunking the idea that this is a cold climate custom.

The idea that this tradition is brought over from Scandinavia could be true. However, I came across a forum where a person said they were raised in a Scandinavia immigrant region of North Dakota and never heard or seen of grave blankets. I would guess that the interest in grave blankets in the warmer states comes from people bringing the tradition in from more popular states.

Below is the full data on states that express an interest in the search term of “grave blankets”. To be fair, the data differences are miniscule. In addition, the tradition of grave blankets is carried on by pockets of the population that remember their parents putting grave blankets on grave sites.

(from highest to lowest volume)

Michigan Virginia
OhioNorth Carolina
New JerseyWyoming
OklahomaDistrict of Columbia
IllinoisNew Hampshire
New YorkSouth Dakota
West VirginiaIdaho
South CarolinaMassachusetts
MarylandNorth Dakota
GeorgiaRhode Island
New Mexico

Have people lost interest in grave blankets?

There are regions of the United States where grave blankets are still a strong tradition. The George Washington Memorial Park, the final resting place for more than 147,000 in Paramus, New Jersey sells thousands of grave blankets every year.

On the other hand, with the rise in cremations, the “footprint” of graves has changed. Cemetaries are starting to include smaller, special places, to hold a loved one’s ashes. “Columbariums” is a term used for buildings or small units that have multiple holdings for the interment of ashes (cremated remains of the deceased). – Neptune Society

Columbarium (a place to hold the ashes of the deceased) in a cemetary.
Example of a Columbarium (a place to hold the ashes of the deceased) in a cemetary.

My local cemetary added one, it reminded me of the little boxes at the post office. There is definitely less to no space to place flowers.

Then there is the fact that our society is more mobile. A son or daughter may live in another state and not nearby a parent’s or relative’s grave site to visit it. Some cemetaries offer the service of placing grave blankets on grave sites for the Christmas season on behalf of the living, at a cost, of course.

The tradition of grave blankets has to be modeled by a parent or grandparent. Some younger generations want to continue the tradition, and others don’t care about it. Yes, people still do grave blankets, but if this tradition carries on can only be seen with time.

In conclusion

In my research, I’ve found that people who didn’t know about grave blankets are rather fascinated with the concept. I also found the love and respect of this tradition to shine through. If you ever have a chance to visit a cemetary during the Christmas season, please do!

Even if there isn’t grave blankets, there are happy and joyful signs of the living remembering their deceased loved ones at Christmas.

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!