I remember visiting my grandparents graves quite often when I was a child. My mom and dad made regular trips to the cemetery, I'd say about every month or so. All four of my grandparents are buried in the same cemetery, Holy Cross, a catholic cemetery in Detroit.
Like most kids, I was a little spooked by being at the cemetery. I enjoyed looking at the various different gravestones near my grandparents graves but I kept pretty close to mom and dad's side. My parents took their grave tending pretty seriously. They always went prepared with shovels and trowels, gardening gloves and a watering can. In the summer and fall we took along fresh cut flowers from my parents back yard. At Christmas each grave received a grave blanket.
In both my moms and dads family's, the siblings all took turns buying grave blankets. Generally, the grave blankets were about 4 feet in length and were made of pine branches with a big bow and a few plastic flowers or ornaments. Here is an example of a typical grave blanket.
My parents are buried at Saint Hedwig cemetery in Dearborn Heights. At that cemetery they don't allow grave blankets. Instead, you are permitted to place an evergreen wreath on a wire tripod on each grave. Here's a picture of my parents' graves with their Christmas wreaths.
I don't remember my parents ever going to the cemetery on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. They would go to visit their parents graves on a Saturday or Sunday a week or two before the Christmas holiday. We wouldn't stay long due to the cold weather. We would get out of the car, walk to the grave site, say a couple prayers (silently), and then get back in the nice warm car. We didn't drive off right away though. Usually my mom or dad would sit in silence for a moment or two gazing out the windows at their parents graves. Sometimes they'd share a story, some little thing they remembered about their mother or father. The cemetery visits always seemed to trigger stories. How I wish I'd thought to record those them!
Even though it is a tradition in Poland to set an empty place setting at the Christmas dinner table for any unexpected guest who may visit or to remember a deceased loved one, I don't remember that as a part of our holiday dinners. I do remember my mom telling me about the tradition though. We may have done it once but I don't have a clear memory of it. I'm sure the reason that we didn't do it every year was because my parents' house was so small and seating area was at a premium.
I would imagine that my parents thought about their parents at Christmastime but they didn't talk about them. I don't remember them talking about any of their deceased siblings at the holidays either.
[The Advent calendar number graphic used in this post was created by NicNic at the NBK blog.]