WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Kathleen Correia (rear) and Anna Mattia admire the ornaments of one of the Christmas trees in Holy Cross Mausoleum.
Maria Arnieri's husband Miguel loved Christmas. He enjoyed the decorations and the whole spirit of the season.
So when he died six years ago, Maria placed one of his favourite decorations – a small crystal angel – on one of the Christmas trees available at the mausoleum of Holy Cross Cemetery on Mark Messier Trail.
That's one way Maria finds comfort and remembers her husband during the Christmas season. "It's a wonderful idea," she says as she inspects the now-broken little angel hanging on the tree. "I feel good because he loved Christmas."
Many families, especially those that have lost a loved one recently, are not in a celebratory mood. The cemetery provides "a place for them that is safe to come and cry, to laugh, to tell the stories and to remember their loved ones," says Deacon Paul Croteau, director of Edmonton Catholic Cemeteries.
Holy Cross set up its first Christmas tree in the mausoleum some 10 years ago. A second was added years later and a third may be added next year. They are about eight or nine feet tall and, Croteau says, "they are the most beautiful Christmas trees I've ever seen."
Also, for the first time this year, Holy Cross began to light the Trees of Life and Light at night with 5,000 lights to add flavour to the season.
"Christmas is a special time of the year but for many people that have lost someone, it can be a time of sadness and grief," Croteau explains.
"We understand that and so what we do is we help our families to look for ways to remember and honour their loved ones. So the Christmas trees and the trees of life and light are sensitive and meaningful ways for family and friends to gather together to remember their loved ones."
The inside trees are decorated with ornaments that families bring to remember their loved ones. Some are handmade ornaments with the name of the deceased person on it. Others have the photo of the deceased on it. There was one that said "Number 1 mom." Another said, "Number 1 teacher."
Christmas Day – along with Mother's Day, Father's Day and Easter – is one of the busiest days of the year at the cemetery with dozens of people coming for a visit.
"We are open on Christmas Day (from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) because it is a time when people like to sit and pray a bit," Croteau says. "We just try to be sensitive and give the families a place to go and honour their loved ones."
Every November during Mass, families are told about the Christmas trees so they can bring ornaments. At the end of the Christmas season, cemetery staff pack away the ornaments for use the following year.
"We put the ornaments on for them and so when they come back they find their ornament on the tree," Croteau says.
Kathleen Correia and Anna Mattia of St. Charles Parish were at the cemetery Dec. 10 visiting deceased relatives and were surprised to see the Christmas trees.
"I didn't know about it; otherwise, I would have brought an ornament," said Correia, whose husband died two years ago and is buried in the mausoleum. Her mom is there as well.
Mattia's parents are buried outside and she had never seen the trees or heard about them. Both were impressed and vowed to return with ornaments to honour their loved ones.
"I'll probably put on a Christmas ball with a photo (of my parents inside)," Mattia said. Correia will bring two ornaments, one for her husband and one for her mom.