Christmas Cemetery Visits in Finland

Christmas is a time when people may make an extra effort to visit the graves of loved ones. There is probably no place more so than Finland, where Christmas cemetery visits take on huge significance.

It is  tradition in Finland that everybody tries to get home for Christmas, sometimes as early as 21st December. Christmas Eve takes on far more importance than in many other countries, with families eating a breakfast of porridge and plum juice together. They then purchase and decorate the tree, before visiting cemeteries to pay their respects at the graves of family members.

Such is the popularity of visiting cemeteries in Finland that the police can often be seen controlling the traffic. It has been estimated that as many as 75% of Finnish people from various denominations visit graves. A particularly popular time to visit is at 3pm shortly before it goes dark. Families light the cemeteries up by leaving candles in hanging lanterns by the grave, leading to a stunning display of light as they glow against the snow and ice.

Picture by Pollo

Although the cemeteries and churchyards are crowded, it is an eerily quiet scene as people remember their lost relatives. There are even people who do not have relatives buried there who go to stroll among the serene landscape. The tradition of visiting graves at this time of year goes back many centuries, but the widespread use of candles only began in the 1920s when they became affordable.

Once the grave visits are over, families usually return to their homes although it is also traditional to take a sauna. The main meal, consisting of pork and vegetables is then consumed in the early evening and afterwards the arrival of Santa Claus is awaited. After the presents have been delivered, they are opened shortly before midnight. Christmas Day is then much quieter, a day of relaxation with Boxing Day then being used for family visits.

The Grave of Alex Raisbeck

Alex Raisbeck, Liverpool Football Club’s first title winning captain, has had a new headstone placed on his long forgotten grave.

Born in Stirlingshire in 1879, Alex Raisbeck played for Larkhill and Hibernian before joining Liverpool for £350 in the summer of 1898. The Edinburgh Evening News reported that Liverpool had signed a centre half who was second to none in the country who could help his new team to great things.

alex raisbeck

From his position in the middle of the pitch, Raisbeck could anticipate and break up opposition attacks, then distribute the ball to his own team’s forwards. His reading of the game was so good that he rarely broke sweat, yet his athleticism allowed him to outjump players of far greater height (he was five foot ten). The first of his eight appearances for his country came against England on 7th April 1900, a game which the Scots won 4-1 at Celtic Park.

For the 1900-01 season Raisbeck was appointed Liverpool’s captain and he led the Reds to a title triumph. They clinched their first championship with a 1-0 win at West Bromwich Albion, after which they were welcomed home by an estimated 60,000 fans at Central Station.

Raisbeck was arguably Liverpool’s first superstar pin-up footballer, his flowing blond hair and moustache attracting plenty of admirers. The maximum wage though meant that players’ lives were far less glamorous than today and many considered employment outside of the game was more secure. To prevent the risk of their captain doing this, Liverpool employed Raisbeck as a ‘bill inspector.’ This was a position for which there were no wage restrictions and technically he was supposed to check advertising posters around the city were displayed correctly.

Just three years after winning the league Liverpool were relegated but Raisbeck led them straight back to the top flight and captained the side to a second championship in 1906. He remained at the club for three more years before returning to Scotland to play for Partick Thistle. After retiring from playing in 1914 he went on to manage Hamilton, Bristol City, Halifax, Bath and Chester. Raisbeck was back at Liverpool FC in 1939 and served the club as a scout for ten years until his death in 1949, when he was buried in Anfield cemetery.

Alex Raisbeck Grave

His final resting place lay forgotten about for a number of years but in was rediscovered in 2016 following the formation of the Liverpool FC Graves Project, which aims to repair and restore the graves of former players. It was located with the help of the Friends of Anfield Cemetery but the headstone, which lies very close to that of Tom Watson, the manager who signed him, was in a poor state. However family members were contacted and his grandson Doug then got in touch with Sarsfield Memorials arrange the installation of a  new headstone. Positioned on 9th December 2016, it is a fitting tribute to his football achievements.

Alex Raisbeck and his wife Elizabeth, who is also buried in the grave, had  a total of twelve children, one of whom is still alive and in his nineties. The installation of the new headstone has also helped connect family members, with a descendant living in Australia now in touch with aunts, uncles and cousins in England.  It is hoped that a formal ceremony can take place in the spring of 2017.


A History of Ford Cemetery

Liverpool Roman Catholic Cemetery, more commonly known as Ford Cemetery, is situated at Ford near Litherland to the north east of the city. Administered by the Archdiocese of Liverpool, its regulations differ than those which apply to cemeteries in Liverpool and Sefton that are run by the local authority.

In the 1850s the Liverpool Corporation forbade any more burials in the central area, meaning there could be noMap of Ford Cemetery more interments at St Anthony’s Church in Scotland Road. Father Newsham purchased twenty one acres of farmland at Ford for this purpose and the first recorded burials were in 1859. Costs ranged from six shillings for a single grave to five pounds and twelve shillings for a family plot near the cross, equivalent to £40 to 625 today.

Funeral services were first held at St Anthony’s, then in 1872 a mortuary chapel opened in Collingwood Street. Three days a week hearses would leave carrying coffins to Ford to their final resting place. There are now over 300,000 buried at Ford Cemetery, many of whom are in unmarked graves that are commemorated by a memorial on the site of the chapel. This chapel was designed by Augustus Pugin and opened in 1861 but was demolished in the 1990s.

A number of notable churchmen are buried at Ford. They include Father James Nugent, founder of a number of schools and refuges in the mid 1800s and whose values live on today via Nugent Care who support many of Liverpool’s most vulnerable. The cemetery is also where Alexander Goss, the second Bishop of Liverpool and first vice-president of St Edward’s College, was buried when he died in 1872.


Many of the graves in Ford Cemetery tell a tale of tragedy. They include that of Margaret Kirby, who was just seven when she disappeared in January 1908 whilst playing outside her home in Kensington. Her badly decomposed body was found seven months later and her killer was never caught. she was buried alongside her mother who had died the previous year and would be joined very soon afterwards by her father who died of a broken heart. Another family headstone commemorates Patrick Seagraves, an able seaman who was serving on the Lusitania when it was torpedoes in 1915 and whose body was never recovered.

Ford Cemetery remains open for burials today but there are some restrictions when it comes to memorials. For example kerbsets are no longer allowed. Sarsfield Memorials work closely with the archdiocese and will be able to advise on what is and isn’t permitted. If you are considering erecting or renovating a headstone at a Ford Cemetery please contact us and we will be happy to discuss your requirements and provide a free no obligation quote.