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What Exactly Is A Grave Blanket?

grave blanket

What is a grave blanket? A good question. Growing up, I never gave graves much thought. Since all the older relatives lived in Germany, there was no cause to visit any graves. I guess I lived a simple life as a child but I really do not think I ever went to a funeral, much less a graveyard, till I was a teenager.
Then my grandparents passed away, and all of a sudden, I was at a graveyard saying good-bye.

The following December after my grandfather passed away, I visited his grave with my mom, and she laid this large “grave-blanket” down. To keep him warm, she told me. I figured this was something she knew about from her parents, but unfortunately never asked. Years later, when Mom was unable to keep making the Grave Blanket, I just started doing it myself. Never questioning why. While making them at the garden center, different people would ask about them, and I just said this is what we do.

Finally, a few years ago, I decided to figure out how this came to be since, even with my husband’s family, no one I knew did this. I wrote an article about it and found that the tradition started in the Upper Midwest when people from Scandinavia settled in that area. The idea is to keep your loved ones warm and protected from the outside elements. Because of the cold, of course, fresh flowers would not last – so they started using evergreen boughs along with other natural things like pine cones.

This past Saturday, when my stepfather was cutting some of his wonderful Nordmann Fir branches, I got what I needed and went home to make the Grave Blanket. After walking around our garden picking what I wanted to include in the blanket, I thought, hey, I should try and make a video of this for you. Do you know how hard it is to stop and start filming each step of the way? Once I had the 14 or so short clips finished, I had to figure out how to put them all together.

Five hours later, you see the results below. Let me remind everyone that I am the Behnke who does not know the names of many plants. Well, pretty much, most of them. I say things wrong and get mixed up, but as my cousin told me when I shared it with her to get her opinion if I should publish it, she said that while I might be hesitant about it since it was not perfect, but what is? Who of us is perfect? And seriously, I was rather proud of myself.

If you have kept reading, the whole video thing brought back the old question, Just what is a grave blanket? This morning I decided to ask my mother. I showed her some photos of what I made and told her that I took it to the graveyard. I told her that her parents were doing okay. (we talk to them when we visit) and hey Mom, why did you start making this grave blanket? She just smiled and said it would keep them warm.

I turned to her husband, who is from Germany, and asked him was this some German custom he shared with mom? He just laughed and said that those Germans love the florist industry and keeping up graves is a big deal. But he never really answered me. He just started telling me about how, as a young boy of 8 or so, he loved sitting in the greenhouse making wreaths. We went outside, and he showed me a very rough way of making a hand tied wreath that I decided there and then was way too much work for me. I left more confused than when I went there but decided I loved the idea of keeping our loved ones warm and cozy during the harsh winter months.

I would love to hear your comments on this video I attempted. You can leave them on YouTube. The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly are all welcomed. (Just don’t be too harsh) Next up, The Making Of The Behnke Bow! Wish Me Luck.

Stephanie Fleming: Beyond Behnke’s

grave blanket video

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Hi Stephanie,

    Thanks for an interesting read! I had never heard of a Grave Blanket and didn’t know that they were a Northern Europe tradition. My grand parents on my father’s side originally hailed from Germany, Bavaria I think. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article and also the video of how to make a grave blanket

    Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Safe and Happy New Year!


  2. My grandmother, Rose Behnke was also from Bavaria. I think this might have been more of a tradition up North where Albert Behnke was from. That said, I never saw it when they were alive because they did not have any family in America.

    Thank you for taking the time to write,


  3. I have a pointesettia from Behnekes last Christmas and I can see the leaves changing color. It is about 10 inches tall, orginal container, very Dark green leafs. The plant was outside for the summer. I can send picture if interested.

    Louise DeJames

    1. Sure, I would love to see it. I gave my mother a 6inch pink poinsettia about 5 or so years ago and her husband brings it in and out year after year. It is now in a 10 inch pot and about 36 inches high.

  4. Ms. Fleming,

    I was very interested in your recent article and video about grave blankets. This will be my first Christmas without my mother, who I lost in February. She was buried beside my father (and close by her parents and both sets of grandparents) on Valentine’s Day in Elizabeth City, NC. I know this will be a hard Christmas for me and I would love to be able to have a grave blanket made for my mom. I phoned the florist who prepared several gorgeous arrangements for the funeral and she is interested in perhaps making such a grave blanket to place on my mom’s grave for me.

    She asked me to text your article or a link to it to her but I cannot figure out how to do either. Frankly, it’s bit long for a text and I want her to be able to see your fine video so a link would be ideal. Is there any way that you can send me a link to the article or to your December 3 email newsletter so I can text it to her?

    I’m very excited about this and I know my mom, who always loved Christmas, would have loved the idea. Her family operated a florist when she was a young woman. When my father was on a Navy ship off the Korean coast during the Korean War, she lived and worked as a newlywed at a florist in California so she would be able to be as close as possible to his home port in San Francisco. Before I was born in 1953, she worked at a florist in downtown Norfolk, VA. Through her, even as a child, I developed a great appreciation for flowers and plants.

    I hope that you can help me. Thank you.

    Craig Winslow

    1. really am glad you might be able to find some comfort in having a grave blanket made for your mother. Thank you so much for sharing your story of your mom and the connection with your family and florist shops.
      Take care

  5. Thanks Stephanie. I’ve never heard of a Grave Blanket! Lovely tradition! I’m of German ancestry, and we lived in Germany for 2 years – and there was a greenhouse nursery in our little town in Northern Bavaria! Thanks for the lesson. I’ll probably explore more of the history.

    Ginger Hand

    1. Hi
      There are so many traditions that are handed down but this one I just do not know where my mother got it. I am thinking from my step father who was from Hamburg, Germany since everything I have read talks about Northern Germany. It is one, that I will keep up as long as I can however.
      It was so very nice to hear from you. I hope you have a wonderful and safe Christmas

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