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Festival of Lights 'a nice way to pay respect'

Rest Haven Cemetery annual event helps people grieve during the holiday season

Rest Haven Cemetery annual event helps people grieve during the holiday season

December 14, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN - Mary Ralls of Smithsburg said she stops by Rest Haven Cemetery with her husband during the annual Festival of Lights ceremony to visit the graves of loved ones.

The event features about 9,000 luminarias that are lighted at 4 p.m. and burn until the next morning.

"It's just beautiful - absolutely beautiful," Ralls said. "I think it's a nice way to pay respect. It's just so serene and peaceful."

Vehicles slowly crept through the cemetery all night Saturday as some people braved the cold to walk among the headstones.

Charles Brown, the cemetery's owner, said he started the festival 21 years ago to help people grieve during Christmas.

"I just thought it would be nice at Christmastime," Brown said. "It's that first Christmas (after someone dies) that is so rough."

Brown said many people come from far away to attend the event, which has become "a family tradition."

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About 100 volunteers made the luminarias the week before Thanksgiving by placing candles in white bags with sand on the bottom, Brown said. The luminarias were stored until Saturday morning, when they were set on the graves.

Brown said before the luminarias were lighted, the Appalachian Wind Quintet performed in the Rest Haven Funeral Home on the cemetery grounds. Those who lost a loved one in the last year were invited to light a candle in the funeral home chapel, he said.

Jamie Scaletta of Hagerstown walked through the cemetery Saturday night with her grandsons, C.J., 5, and Anthony, 3.

Scaletta said she was there to visit the graves of her daughter, Brittany, who died in 1992 after being born prematurely, her parents, Jim and Ann Hovis, and her grandparents, Robert and Jane Getts.

Scaletta said she would continue to attend the Festival of Lights as long as she is able.

"It's one of the greatest things in the world," she said. "Every year I'll be here ... It's where my family is."

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