Guest Post: How To Deliver A Christmas Memorial Service That Families Will Remember

christmas memorial service

For those who have lost family or friends during the past year, Christmas will be a time of reflection and remembrance.  For those of us who have supported our families and friends during their grief and sadness, it will be a time to celebrate the resilience of the human spirit.

Christmas in Australia falls during our summer season and festivities are often coupled with vacations. For me, Christmas means heading north to Sydney, my hometown, to be with my family. Evenings are filled with the hum of cicadas and the arrival of Christmas beetles that fly through windows opened to welcome the sea breeze. Gardens are full of the fragrance of frangipanis and gardenias, and they’re where I enjoy the chaos of my rowdy family and my old friends.

Christmas Memorial Services

In the lead up to Christmas, I have been privileged to conduct Christmas Memorial Services for some of the funeral companies that I work with here in Melbourne.  I enjoy these services mostly because I get to see some of the families that I have served during the year. Families who have lived in my thoughts and who I am so grateful to see as they prove to me that, through enormous sadness and loss, life does go on.

For one of these Christmas services, I was asked to deliver a Christmas message. After I had time to think about it ﹘ mostly between 3 o’clock and 5 o’clock in the morning ﹘ the fear set in and I realized that is was going to be an interesting task.

You see, as a celebrant, I am mostly a facilitator. I meet with my families and am guided by their needs in putting together services. I write eulogies, download music, type up readings… but, of course, the stories are all their stories, and the selections are mostly theirs too. They provide all the material. I just piece it together and present it for them.

So, in putting together a Christmas message for this particular Christmas Memorial, I decided to turn to my families for inspiration and material. I pulled out the services that I have led previously this year and looked for their Christmas stories. Here is some of what I found…  

There were stories of tables being set; some with silverware and crystal, but many with plastic plates in campgrounds all around Victoria. There were wild Christmas Eve parties often shared with neighbors and friends, and midnight calls from frantic parents for batteries and bike pumps. There were many happy holidays spent on beaches and in rural Victoria. And then there were so many stories and fond memories of food, trifles, puddings, pavlovas, mince pies, turkeys, and more. Everyone has a story about their favourite food and who made it for them at Christmas.

All of these shared experiences are what my families had remembered most about Christmas.  Interestingly, I found little mention of gifts or presents in their recollections of their happiest Christmas times. Their Christmas memories were all about time spent with family and friends, meals shared, and holidays enjoyed.

So my Christmas message delivered last week, inspired by the many families I have served this past year, was this: the greatest gift that we can give is the time we share with the people we love, which, in turn, creates the memories that we so cherish.

Personalized Memorial Experiences

If there is someone missing from your Christmas festivities this year, I’m sure they won’t be far from your thoughts and your hearts. Continue to honor their lives by sharing their stories and reminiscing with family and friends about favourite times spent together. It is through our thoughts and our shared memories that we keep them alive.

The following Christmas Litany of Remembrance is one that I adapted from Ronald Gittelsohn’s Litany of Remembrance written in 1945. I use it to close my Christmas services, encouraging everyone to join me in saying ‘we remember them.’

“In the preparation of celebration and coming together as family, we remember them.

In the decorating of the Christmas tree and in the sending of Christmas messages, we remember them.

In the carving of the turkey and the raising of glasses, we remember them.

In the fun of the holiday season and the relaxation of time spent on vacation, we remember them.

In the celebrating of Christmas and the ringing in of the New Year, we remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them.

When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them.

When we have joys we yearn to share, we remember them.

So long as we live, they too, shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.”

From ‘Down Under,’ I wish you all health and happiness for the coming year.

Stephanie_002About The Author

Stephanie Longmuir is a Funeral Celebrant and owner of myendnotes.com, Australia’s first online funeral planning service. Having led hundreds of end of life ceremonies she developed the website out of a need expressed by families struggling to make rational decisions at a time of enormous grief and stress. myendnotes.com is a platform that allows the user to document their end of life preferences as well as their life story and legacy. It is an excellent tool for individuals and families as well as Funeral directors and celebrants.

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  1. Dave Savage

    Stephanie,

    Thanks for sharing about Rabbi Gittelsohn and the importanace and value of remembering and sharing family stories during the holidays and frankly anytime. On our website and in our book we provide ideas, advice and materials for activities the foster the sharing and RECORDING of stories, history, heritage, skills and more . It will be a priceless gift that you can give to your extended family and future generations.

    One suggestion is to have people bring their photo albums or boxes of pictures and do a “Show and Tell” of the stories that are inspired by the pictures. (Who, what , where, when and why) Plan for and set aside a two hour period of time to do it.

    To you and all who read this I welcome your emails and Skype calls to us in Atlanta.

    Dave Savage – co-author and educator with my wife Beverly
    Heartfelt Memorial Services: Your Guide for Planning Meaningful Funerals, Celebrations of Life and TIMES OF REMEMBRANCE. HeartfeltMemorialServices.com

  2. Adeline Lee

    Nice Blog! Is truly very inspiring especially in our business trade.
    This made us cherish even more especially during this Christmas time.
    Thanks!