Everyone handles loss and memorializing their loved ones differently. But we all share a common sentiment: we find comfort in the rituals passed down from our respective cultures. However, the way memorials are portrayed in the media would have you think there’s only one way — a somber traditional funeral, with a casket, and an all-black dress code. In reality, there are many ways to celebrate a life well-lived. In fact, memorial ceremonies can range from somber to boisterous — sometimes even joyful and vibrant events. Traditional burial ceremonies are just one option in a sea of rituals and traditions from cultures all around the world.
We’ll dive into some of the traditions and rituals that people observe below.
Mourning allows us to grieve the loss of a loved one and reflect on the memories you shared together. Many cultures have traditions for this period of mourning so that friends and family can share their grief. Below we’ve listed some of the ways that people around the world mourn the loss of a loved one.
The customs of an Irish wake began centuries ago when people were often mistaken for dead when they were actually in a catatonic state (often brought on by contaminated water.) Traditionally, their loved ones would watch over them to see if they would “wake” before moving forward with funeral arrangements. Loved ones would perform special rituals to ward off evil spirits and protect the body, and those sitting with the deceased would often pass the time by entertaining each other with stories and games.
Over time, wakes evolved into a memorial celebration of life, where mourners recant fond memories and stories of the departed, often toasting with a glass of whiskey. An Irish wake allows friends and family to share memories and grief, so that they may carry on….
The Jewish tradition of sitting shiva dates back to biblical times. Traditionally, for seven days after a loved one has been laid to rest, the immediate family remains at home and takes time to process their loss. Over the course of the week, family and friends visit to offer their condolences and support. The week spent at home allows the family to mourn during this initial period of grief, sharing special memories and creating new ones together.
Some families may choose a shorter period to sit shiva, but the goal remains the same — to mourn, memorialize, and begin to accept their loss. Sitting shiva is a beautiful tradition that allows families to share comfort in one another while processing the death of a loved one.
Funeral ceremony traditions
Most funerals that we see in the media are a somber event, but death doesn’t have to warrant an all-black dress code. Funeral plans can be peaceful — or even full of laughter and joy. Below are a few unique funeral traditions celebrated around the world.
Jazz Funeral, New Orleans
The vibrant and unique culture of New Orleans is like nowhere else, and this is vividly demonstrated by the tradition of jazz funeral processions. The tradition usually begins with a band leading mourners from a church to the cemetery, playing dirges as they progress to the final resting place.
After the departed has been laid to rest, the band switches to upbeat music and mourners dance and celebrate to celebrate the life of the deceased. Jazz funerals are usually performed for musicians or prominent community members, and the public is encouraged to respectfully join the procession. This funeral tradition blends the French, West African, and African-American cultures that are such a special part of New Orleans.
Bagpipes for Fallen Heroes
Playing bagpipes at weddings and funerals has been a tradition for Celtic people for hundreds of years. The tradition migrated to America in the mid-1800s, when the Great Potato famine resulted in a wave of immigrants from the UK settling on the east coast of the United States. At the time, these immigrants were not welcomed warmly and employment opportunities were scarce. Many were forced out of necessity to take the dangerous jobs that other people didn’t want, such as firefighters or police officers, which were especially perilous occupations back then.
When an Irish or Scotsman would die on the job, traditional bagpipes would be played at their funeral. The mournful, sober tones of bagpipes brought dignity to these funerals, and before long, bagpipes were requested at the funerals of servicemen of all descents. Now, most major cities have special bagpipe bands made up of active or retired firefighters and police officers who learn to play in order to honor their fallen colleagues in their celebration of life.
If you haven’t attended a military funeral service, you’ve probably seen one in a movie. Special military funeral honors are available to all eligible United States of America veterans. During a military memorial service, an American flag is draped over the casket of the fallen soldier, Taps is played on a bugle, and three shots are fired over the final resting place. The military funeral flag is then folded and presented to the family of the departed. These customs evolved over hundreds of years while honoring the dead on battlefields, and the solemnity of these images is indelible.
Memorial Forest Ash Spreading
People who feel a deep connection to nature can have their cremation ashes spread in a protected memorial forest. Many find this experience to be more peaceful than the traditional burial in a crowded cemetery. At Better Place Forests, we help you create a final resting place that protects the planet and the people you love.
During a memorial ceremony, mourners are greeted at the forest by one of our forest stewards, who guides the family to their loved one’s tree. To begin the ash spreading ceremony, our forest stewards read an important poem or writing chosen by the family. Ashes are then mixed with native soil and spread at the base of the tree. Once the ashes have been spread, family members are invited to spread wildflower seeds to encourage new growth in the forest.
Loved ones are welcome to participate as much or as little as they’d like — a novelty during a funeral remembrance. Those who start their end of life planning early have the additional benefit of creating a bond with their memorial tree before they pass.
We’re happy to help you accommodate any memorial ritual or tradition. To learn more about spending eternity in the forest, schedule a free online forest tour to get started.