Common Funeral Traditions

Within the United States and Canada, in most cultural groups and regions, the funeral rituals can be divided into three parts: visitation, funeral, burial service and gathering.

At the visitation (also called a “viewing” or “wake”) the embalmed body of the deceased is placed on display in the casket. The viewing often takes place on one or two evenings before the funeral. The body is traditionally dressed in the deceased’s best clothes. In recent times there has been more variation in what the deceased is dressed in. The body is also adorned with the usual jewelry and watch. They remain in the casket after burial, but may be removed before cremation.

Frequently visitors sign a book kept by the deceased’s survivors to record who attended. The visitors are allowed to view the deceased’s body in the casket. In addition, a family may choose to display photographs taken of the deceased during his or her life. Often photos are displayed, a large portrait of the deceased, with other family members, and candid pictures to show happy memories. A recent trend is to create a DVD with pictures and video of the deceased, accompanied by music, and play this DVD continuously during the visitation. After the services, the DVD is given to the family.

Rosary made out of Roses – Ask Us About Our Custom Funeral Flowers.The viewing is either “open casket”, in which the embalmed body of the deceased has been clothed and treated with cosmetics for display; or “closed casket”, in which the casket is closed. The casket may be closed if the body was too badly damaged because of an accident or fire, deformed from illness or if someone in the group is emotionally unable to cope with viewing the body. During an open casket, if the deceased was of Roman Catholic faith, a large rosary made out of fresh roses may be hung inside of the casket.

Jewish funerals are held soon after death, and the body is never displayed. Jewish law forbids anyone to embalm the body of the deceased. Traditionally flowers (and music) are not sent to a grieving Jewish family as it is a reminder of the life that is now lost. Instead, a food basket may be sent to the family.

The deceased’s closest friends and relatives who are unable to attend frequently send flowers to the viewing. The viewing typically takes place at a funeral home, which is equipped with gathering rooms where the viewing can be conducted, although the viewing may also take place at a church. It is also common practice in some of the states in the southeastern United States that the body is taken to the deceased’s home or that of a relative for viewing. The viewing may end with a prayer service; in the Catholic funeral, this may include a rosary.

A visitation is often held the evening before the day of the funeral. However, when the deceased person is elderly the visitation may be held immediately preceding the funeral. This allows elderly friends of the deceased a chance to view the body and attend the funeral in one trip, since it may be difficult for them to arrange travel.

Burial Services

The Vale of Rest

The Vale of Rest is a burial service, conducted at the side of the grave, tomb, mausoleum or crematorium, at which the body of the deceased is buried or cremated at the conclusion.

Sometimes, the burial service will immediately follow the funeral, in which case a funeral procession travels from the site of the memorial service to the burial site. Other times, the burial service takes place at a later time, when the final resting place is ready.

If the deceased served in a branch of the Armed forces, military rites are often accorded at the burial service.

In many religious traditions, pallbearers, usually males who are close, but not immediate relatives (such as cousins, nephews or grandchildren) or friends of the deceased, will carry the casket from the chapel to the hearse, and from the hearse to the site of the burial service. The pallbearers often sit in a special reserved section during the memorial service.

According to most religions, caskets are kept closed during the burial ceremony, but sometimes the caskets are reopened just before burial to allow loved ones to look at the deceased one last time and give their final farewells.

The morticians will typically ensure that all jewelry, including wristwatch, that were displayed at the wake are in the casket before it is buried or entombed. It would be unseemly to have the deceased’s heirs squabbling over a watch or jewelry. Custom requires that everything stays in the casket with the deceased. There is an exception, in the case of cremation. Such items tend to melt or suffer damage, so they are usually removed beforehand. Pacemakers are removed as well.


In many traditions, a meal or other gathering often follows the burial service. This gathering may be held at the deceased’s church or another off-site location. Some funeral homes have large spaces set aside to provide funeral dinners.

For Irish descendants, An Irish Wake usually lasts 3 full days. On the day after the wake the funeral takes place. Family members and friends will ensure that there is always someone awake with the body, traditionally saying prayers.

Generally speaking, the number of people who are considered obliged to attend each of these three rituals by etiquette decreases at each step:

Distant relatives and acquaintances may be called upon to attend the visitation.
The deceased’s closer relatives and local friends attend the funeral or memorial service, and subsequent burial (if it is held immediately after the memorial service).
If the burial is on the day of the funeral, only the deceased’s closest relatives and friends attend the burial service (although if the burial service immediately follows the funeral, all attendees of the memorial service are asked to attend).
Traditionally etiquette dictated that the bereaved and other attendees at a funeral wear semi-formal clothing—such as a suit and tie for men or a dress for women. The most traditional and respectful color is solid black (with a matching solid black tie for men) preferably without any underlying pinstripes or patterns in the weave. But failing that charcoal gray or dark navy blue may be worn. Wearing short skirts, low-cut tops, t-shirts with advertising slogans or suggestive images, or, at Western funerals, a large amount of white (other than a button-down shirt or blouse, or a military uniform) is often seen as disrespectful. Women who are grieving the death of their husband or a close partner sometimes wear a veil to conceal the face, although the veil is not common now.

Wearing colorful clothing is no longer considered inappropriate for relatives and friends. Persons attending a funeral should be dressed in good taste so as to show dignity and respect for the family and the occasion.



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