Funeral Traditions Around the World

Posted: 19/01/2018

As cultures differ all across the world, as traditions concerning death and funerals. What one culture may perceive as normal or correct when it comes to the treatment of the dead body, and what happens to us after death will most probably heavily differ from a culture across the plant. Funeral traditions around the world are also somewhat dependant on religious practices.

According to mortician Caitlin Doughty, Americans are doing death wrong. She puts forward the argument in her new book named “From Here to Eternity”, that the United States funeral industry has recently become an evil: “more expensive, more corporate and more bureaucratic than any other funeral industry on earth.” Doughty is not basing her writings on nothing, she runs a funeral parlour Undertaking LA and is the founder of The Order of the Good Death which is a community based online for the purposes of morticians.

So, if America has got it all wrong according to Doughty, what has the rest of the world got to offer when it comes to Funeral Traditions? Here we will discuss a handful of places and some of the funeral traditions, some of which may shock you.

United Kingdom

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Here in the UK, we have plenty of traditions which are still thriving today that date back as far as the Victorian era. The Victorian era is famed for a time which society created and adhered to a set of strict codes of conduct, and this did not stop at how a person who conducts themselves in mourning.

In the UK, it is still customary to wear black or dark clothing to a funeral service unless the family have clearly stated otherwise. The clothing worn should be modest and smart. Men often opt for a black suit, whilst women often wear black dresses. The reasoning for black attire is because it has long been a colour associated with respect.

The traditional procession in the UK is led by a hearse, which contains the coffin and the funeral flowers. This hearse will be followed by a car which will hold the immediate family of the deceased.

Flowers are a big part of the traditional British funeral service. They provide decoration and comfort in a difficult time, they are often given as gifts. Click here to see the different types of flowers used in funerals in the UK.

In the UK, the deceased can either be cremated or buried. If they choose to be buried, it is customary to throw soil onto the coffin as it is lowered into the grave. In some cases, personal items are thrown into the coffin as well. It is far more common for British people to go with the method of cremation nowadays. Either way, it can be extremely expensive and many people are opting for a prepaid funeral plan.

Spain

In Spain, the modern Altima Funeral home in Barcelona and its practices may seem slightly alien to you. A long-held tradition is honoured here, which is encasing dead bodies in glass and is displayed. The body can be behind a pane of glass like in a department story window or it can be displayed in a case in the centre of the room. The family decide which way they prefer and rent out a room and spend the entire funeral service in the room with the displayed body.

Japan

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Japan hold the title for the highest cremation rate in the world – 99.9% of the dead in Japan are cremated. It is customary for the family to witness the body going into the cremation chamber. Japanese funeral traditions are mainly based around making the ceremony as special and individual as possible.

Since the biggest religion in Japan is Buddhism, the funerals are heavily influenced by this. In Tokyo, there is a Buddhist Temple in which peoples cremated remains corresponded to glowing statues of Buddha which mourners can visit. The family are given access to the temple; upon arrival, the walls light up blue apart from one single statue which is a clear white, this is the one which contains the family’s loved one’s remains.

In Japan, it is customary to wear black to funerals; men usually wear black suits and women usually wear black dresses or black kimonos, no matter what is worn, it should be loose fitting. However, in Buddhist funerals, the family will normally wear white whilst everyone else wears black. The colour red should be avoided and women should not be seen to be wearing jewellery as it signifies materialism, and everyone should be equal in death. Read about Buddhist funeral traditions here.

Mexico

Mexican funeral traditions are heavily influenced by Catholicism, which is deep rooted into their culture, despite the country having the freedom of religion since the mid-19th century. However, 82% of the population are followers of Catholicism due to the Spanish conquest and the colonial era.

In the catholic faith, cremation is not forbidden but it is not encouraged. The scattering of ashes and keeping them in an urn is considered to be against the faith. Therefore, if cremation is chosen, the ashes must be buried. Traditional burial is far more common in Mexico however.

In Mexico, it is not common for the family to take the deceased to a funeral home straight away. Rather, it is traditional for the family to spend around 48 hours with their loved one in their own home – the deceased will have a simple sheet draped over them. During this time, people visit the home and come together to eat and drink, hold prayers and celebrate the life of the deceased.

Germany

Something interesting about German Funerals is that they do not buy burial plots, they simply rent them – this is becoming a trend across mainland Europe. The usual time you can rent for is about 20 years and once this is up, the corpse will be relocated to a mass grave.