Our nation is a wonderful blend of cultures and customs from around the world. As we introduce ourselves to new neighbors, and experience new cultures first hand, we often find ourselves interested in learning more, even when it comes to funeral customs.Have you ever wondered if there are different ways to grieve and pay your respects that feel more authentic to you, than the “traditional” funeral rituals?
There is no right or wrong way to express our sorrow at the death of a loved one; and different religions and cultures have developed into a variety of ways to collectively acknowledge the loss of a community member. Society is built from many different hands, and the purpose of this article is to highlight some of the rituals that separate different cultures and religions from the others. Keep in mind that there are also many, many commonalities.
Korean funeral services are often marked with large, elaborate flower displays. In recent years these arrangements have started to replace food offerings. Should you decide to send an arrangement, a Korean florist may be the best suited to assist you. Immediate family members, and sometimes guests, may also be wearing armbands to symbolize their loss. Children are expected to wear this armband for up to 100 days, although customs have changed depending on geographic location. The Korean community is also highly likely to offer cards with money to the family to help them with the cost of the funeral. Generally one family member is assigned to sit with a guest book and collect the envelopes from attendees.
Chinese funeral rites have many similarities, although they also have rituals that involve sending offerings of food, money, and sometimes clothing with the deceased. This way their loved one is well prepared and represented in the afterlife. Similarly, you may be familiar with putting photos, stuffed animals, jewelry, and other significant items with your loved one. Chinese funerals can last up to seven days, with additional prayers to be recited at specific intervals after the funeral.
As many Asian cultures have roots in Buddhism, it should be no surprise that Buddhist funeral rites also involve food and flower offerings. These are placed on an altar built for the deceased. One of the more distinctive parts of Buddhist funeral rites is the use of incense, which will feel familiar if your own religion uses it. There is generally also a time of meditation and chanting during the service. Note that there are many regional variations of all of these customs, and you are always welcome to ask religious leaders how their services are led.
Islam has many rules and rituals related to the preparation of the dead and the burial service itself. Again, these customs will vary slightly around the world. However, in general, the family and mosque members will be the ones to wash and prepare the body for burial. Women wash and shroud women, and men wash and shroud men. This shrouding in part indicates the equality of all in death. Funeral services happen as quickly as possible, so there may be very little notice to attend. In America, this generally means next day services, although there may be legal regulations that cause a delay.
Jewish funerals share many similarities with Muslim services, but do not necessarily have to take place as quickly. One likeness is the ritual of participants helping to close the grave. This may be only male attendees, or only family, depending on the customs. Sometimes the family starts the process, then the cemetery staff steps in to complete it. One ritual that is distinctly Jewish is the idea that someone sits with the deceased from time of death until the burial. This can be both a great honor, and a time commitment, so we encourage you to talk to family and friends if you are considering asking them to do this for you when the time comes.
Finally, we want to speak to some non-traditional funeral rites that have gained popularity over the last few decades. Some ideas include having the attendees write out a memory of the deceased to leave with the family. Other times, the family will hand out memory tokens to the attendees (such as wristband bracelets, photos, or a favorite candy). Others may choose to have a memorial or celebration of life in a special location that has no religious overtones. Perhaps at a park, at a ball field, or even at the home of the family. This is a wonderful way to bring people together to collectively mourn.
We hope this information provided insight into different funeral customs from around the globe. As your social circles widen, and your friends and family define their own faith, we want you to feel comfortable showing support to them during their own times of grief and mourning. Likewise, we hope that you find comfort in the type of funeral service you will be planning for family, and for yourself. We encourage you to reach out so that we may help meet your needs, and find out how best to accommodate your funeral plans.