ST. GEORGE – One by one, young and old placed either rose bouquets or single white roses around the base of the statue of an angel meant to provide hope and support for the parents of children who have died.
“It’s a monument that’s erected for the people who have had children pass away. Children of any age or circumstance,” said Diane Jennings, co-founder of the “Christmas Box Angel” ceremony in St. George.
The ceremony, which is held Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. each year, is observed at 120 locations across the country, as well as locations in Canada and Japan, Jennings said.
Around 140 people gathered at the ceremony held at Spilsbury Mortuary Tuesday night. Many held candles in their hand as a brief message was given, followed by a Christmas hymn. After that, Jennings began to read off the names of children whose parents had had their names added to the list over the years. As each name was read, couples and individuals came forward and placed the white roses at the statue’s base.
Behind the angel are the names of many of the children mentioned during the ceremony, repeated each year, etched into a stone wall.
The Christmas Box Angel ceremony has its roots in the widely acclaimed novel written by Utah author Richard Paul Evans known as “The Christmas Box.”
In the story, a woman grieves the loss of her child by visiting a statue described as a childlike angel with wings outstretched and the word “hope” written on its right wing.
After the success of the book and subsequent television movie, stories started to surface that grieving parents were seeking out the angel statue also known as the “Angel of Hope,” Jennings previously told St. George News.
When the stories reached Evans, the author decided to have an angel statue commissioned matching the description of the one in the book. In 1994 the statue was placed in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
The first ceremony in St. George took place in 2002. The St. George angel statue was the 36th of its kind to be commissioned.
“The sense of loss doesn’t completely disappear, but it does soften,” said Leanna Phillips as she provided the message for the ceremony.
Phillips recounted her own experience of losing her daughter who was stillborn in 1995 due to an accident involving the umbilical cord. The child was conceived after Phillips and her husband had been unsuccessful having a baby over a few years.
She told those gathered not to give into myths about grief. She encouraged them to express the grief they felt at losing a child rather than follow the so-called advice of society that calls on people to “chin-up” and move on, bottling up their grief as they attempt to move forward.
The Christmas Box Angel ceremony is one that affords people an opportunity to display that sense of loss and grief openly, Jennings said. The lawn where the angel statue is located is always open, she said, so those who need a peaceful place to come and reflect and cry can access it any time.
Jennings said she was inspired to get the Christmas Box Angel ceremony going in St. George following the death of one of her daughters – the second to have died. The first died two days after her birth due to medical complications.
“The children are at the forefront of my mind, especially at Christmas time,” she said.
The holidays themselves can be a lonely time for someone who has lost a child, Jennings said.
“You feel very much alone,” she said. “This way (through the ceremony), people can connect with others. It gives you a little feeling of comfort going into the Christmas season.”
The Angel of Hope statue is located on the southern lawn of the Spilsbury Mortuary at 110 N. Bluff St. in St. George.
St. George News reporter Hollie Reina contributed to this article.
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