High River United Church of High River, Alberta


An Extra Plate for Remembrance

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I love the ritual of preparing the table for the Ukrainian Christmas eve supper.  Each step has a special meaning to remind the family of the holy event we celebrate.  Fresh hay is placed either under the table or on top of the table under the table cloth to tell of the manger in which Jesus laid.  A white or embroidered table cloth covers the table and in the centre is placed a loaf of bread braided with three strands to represent the Trinity and a candle in the middle for the Star of Bethlehem.  Twelve dishes will be served (no meat & no dairy) to symbolize the twelve disciples.  The meal begins when the smallest child sees the first star. But the part of the tradition I love the most is the setting of extra place settings at the table.  One place is set to welcome a stranger in need of a good meal and warm bed (Hebrews 13:2 says, some have thus entertained angels).  Another place is set to remember loved ones who have died, especially those who have died in the past year.


Christmas is a time that is all about family, which makes it so much harder when there has been a death of a family member. At every event and through every family tradition, the loved one’s presence is so…..well, so absent. While we miss the person every day of the year, the Christmas season can make it all the more poignant. We all are thinking of the loved one.  We are all feeling sad and missing this person. So how can we acknowledge this in our Christmas traditions this year?


While children may not talk much about their grief or appear to be grieving, they too are thinking of the loved one. They know that person is gone – even the youngest ones have a sense that someone is missing.  You are not helping anyone by avoiding mentioning your loved one’s name or stating out loud how much you miss them.  Better, then, to do something that clearly and lovingly names what is in all of your hearts.  This is a great modelling for children about how to journey through grief and loss.


The Ukrainians have the tradition of setting an extra place at the table, and you are welcome to embrace that idea if it fits for you. Think also of your own family traditions.  One of them can become a meaningful way of remembering the saints of the family who are no longer physically present, but always with you in spirit.  Here are some more ideas:


-have a candle(s) in the centre of the table (just one for all of your ancestors or one candle for each who has died in the past year) to light each Sunday evening during Advent, at each supper and/or at the beginning of your Christmas meal. When you light the candle, each person at the table can tell a favourite memory or name a word that describes your beloved one.


-hang a special ornament on the tree for each loved one so that decorating the Christmas tree becomes a time of remembering and telling stories.  “Here is Gramma’s ornament.  Remember how Gramma always……”  “Here is Grampa’s ornament. Remember the day he……”


-make a gift to a charity in honour of, and especially appropriate to, each one you are remembering.


-take part in a Christmas tradition that your loved one particularly enjoyed.  Perhaps they loved going to hear Handel’s “Messiah” or donating toys for Christmas hampers.  Do this in their honour.


Our dog, Teddy, died this past June.  He was a significant member of our family and we all miss him dearly, so I think that his dog dish might sit under the table this Christmas, to acknowledge our grief, our missing him and our gratitude for the 14 years we shared. 


Remember! Acknowledging that a loved one has died won’t make it a sad meal or sad tradition. People are already feeling the sadness and missing the loved one.  It is better to state this upfront rather than bottle it up inside. This Christmas, how will you remember those who have died in your family?

December 8, 2015                    ©Susan Lukey 2015

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