By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
About 350 people gathered around a 15-foot Nordmann Fir tree at Calvary Cemetery, 1600 Newburg Road, the evening of Dec. 1. A children’s choir from St. Agnes Church sang hymns and Christmas carols; a tent held hot drinks and pastries. And Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz blessed the live tree, which was ceremonially lit as a Christmas tree to the delight of onlookers.
After the tree lighting and blessing, participants were invited to hang ornaments on the tree in memory of loved ones. About 250 spherical glass ornaments — bearing the names of lost loved ones — were hung that night.
The church typically turns its focus toward cemeteries each fall on All Souls’ and All Saints’ days, times when the church family pays special attention to departed loved ones.
The Archdiocese of Louisville’s Catholic Cemeteries office has found a way to bring the warmth of Advent and Christmas to the cemetery with the Tree of Remembrance. And organizers hope it helps families start a new tradition that includes those they mourn.
“Christmas is a difficult time for people who have lost a loved one,” noted Javier Fajardo, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries. “You think of family memories. It’s harder than most of the other holidays. I thought it would be a good idea to have a tree to remember them.
“You’re incorporating your loved one in the holiday,” he said. “We are creating a tradition for some.”
Throughout December, the public is invited to hang ornaments in memory of those who have died. Catholic Cemeteries is providing the glass balls, which can be personalized, for free. All are welcome to stop by the cemetery office between now and Christmas to pick up an ornament. The public is also invited to bring an ornament from home to hang on the tree.
That offer extends to all people, regardless of where their loved one is buried or how long ago.
“People are very appreciative — we get a lot of hugs and kisses and thank you’s,” Fajardo said. “I think it will help some people get through Christmas.”
Catholic Cemeteries started providing the Christmas tree and ornaments in 2015. The tree-lighting and blessing were added in 2016. And Fajardo said the lighting will be held annually as long as people continue to come.
By late December last year, the tree was crowded with ornaments, about 450 in all, Fajardo said. Because it’s a live tree, which grows about a foot a year, Fajardo hopes the tree’s size will keep pace with a growing interest.
Ornaments will remain on the tree through the feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6. They will be removed and held for pickup in the Catholic Cemeteries office until Jan. 31.