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N.S. Gill

Why We Put Flowers on Graves

By October 5, 2012

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Have you ever wondered why lawns in cemeteries are so carefully manicured -- let alone why the graves are decorated with living flowers? In this season preceding Halloween, and especially on this day when in ancient Rome it was thought ghosts might walk the earth, it seemed fitting to read an article I had printed, but never read, on the burial customs of the Romans.

Heller ["Burial Customs of the Romans," by John L. Heller; The Classical Weekly (1932), pp.193-197] writes:

"Since the soul of the deceased was thought to need provisions for various wants in post mortem existence, the ground about the tomb was often laid out as a garden, where the spirit might wander and enjoy itself in its own bit of the Elysian Fields. This custom, of course, survives to-day in the decoration of tombs with flowers, although now we think of the flowers merely as decorations fitting to our sense of piety and our memory of the dead."

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Comments

October 6, 2010 at 6:19 am
(1) Michal says:

Now I wonder if plastic flowers satisfy the dead–

October 6, 2010 at 7:18 am
(2) ancienthistory says:

I imagine the ancient Roman ghosts walking around from yesterday might not be amused. You might have to expiate your impiety with a gravesite bbq or pouring some of your wine into the grave.

October 6, 2010 at 11:25 am
(3) Michal says:

In Poland, where I come from, people put “znicz” on the graves (apart from flowers) which is a small jar with a candle in it. Whether it is supposed to symbolize life (fire), mortality (when the candle melts), or whether it is to guide souls – I don’t know. I also read it is supposed to provide heat for the dead. Do you have any clues?

October 12, 2010 at 12:26 am
(4) Paul Minihan says:

This putting stuff on graves has now become laughable. A recent trend that i have noticed is one of putting plants on graves. On Sunday i came across a grave with a 5 foot high rose growing out of it.
Grave yards are becoming more and more like garden centres and we know how much people like to visit garden centres.

October 12, 2010 at 9:10 am
(5) dvanilla says:

It’s amazing how we pattern things we have no clue about.

December 27, 2010 at 4:20 pm
(6) marcia bastos says:

maybe society should do away with grave yards
your loved one is not there it is just a bag of bones inside a box that cust an arm and an leg, for what? tat you can make yourself suffer every time you go visit the grave yard? just talk to your loved one in the confort of your home, it;s much cheaper!

December 27, 2010 at 4:24 pm
(7) marcia bastos says:

grave yards is a place for you to go and suffer, for what? your loved one is not there, what is there is a bag of bones serving no prorp. if you want to talk to your love one just do it from your house or anywhere

March 15, 2013 at 9:49 pm
(8) Mitzi Montooth says:

I think you all have the wrong idea about the flowers on the grave and that it is a place to go suffer! Flowers are a way of showing your love and respect for the one who taught you and loved you always and unconditionally. Going there should always bring you joy and peace because even though they are not there in the physical sense, thier spirit and love in there and you are honoring them with a gift of love and a dedication to love them forever !
Change your perspective and then try a visit ! You may feel something entirely different when you leave.
Just saying that is how it is for me and both my parents, all 4 grandparents 4 uncles, 3 aunts and 3 cousins and a number of my friends are gone and when i do reminence while there- they are always fond memories and make me feel close to them for a moment.

April 11, 2013 at 1:19 pm
(9) cherylann says:

I agree with Mitzi, Going to the grave is a sign of respect. I am fully aware my husband and all his relatives are not there, and I do speak to them often at home. I do not suffer when I am there planting flowers, and have had some delightful conversations with others paying respect to their loved ones. Never once have I met someone crying or sobbing, it is not a place of sadness, it is a place of peace, and transformation. These bodies were once alive and all had stories, and lives. I consider it an honor to take care of my loved ones graves.
There is also a whole langage of flowers that goes back thousands of years. When our ancestors left flowers at graves, they were actually leaving messages. Rosemary is for rememberance, Pansies = you are in my thoughts, nasyurtium= heroism, roses it depends on the color, Pine trees, farewell or faith. My granddaughter is learning the langage of flowers and when she brings flowers to her moms grave, she thinks about the message in the flowers. She likes to think, her mom is looking down from heaven smiling, because she took the time to visit and honor her grave. My granddaughter who is 14 doesn’t cry at the grave, she smiles, because she did something special for her mom. Please do not judge those of us who chose to remember, show respect, and honor our loved ones, and the lives they lived.

July 27, 2013 at 1:05 pm
(10) Jebediah Springfield says:

Flowers are put on graves mostly to try and convince friends and relatives that you care about the departed and are a good and moral person. Personally, I don’t see why I should care about the rotting corpse of the departed or trying to convince anyone that I’m a good and moral person. As such, I never leave flowers. My memories of the good times are all that I need, and if it were possible without upsetting anyone I would dig up my mother, cremate her body in her over priced coffin and scatter her ashes on a pretty river.

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