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Funeral Roadmap Series: Traditions, Customs, Preparation, and Etiquette to Celebrate Life

As the world we live in becomes smaller and more intertwined, we are bound to encounter cross-cultural funeral traditions. Maybe you’ve been invited to celebrate the life of a friend or colleague, or you want to respect the wishes of your loved ones by giving them a proper send-off. Perhaps you’re searching for inspiration for your own eventual passing.

Regardless, funerals and funeral services are as diverse as the people whose lives they memorialize. And while each tradition differs from the next, the similarities tell us something about what it means to be human, no matter where we come from.

Awareness of the differences and similarities of funeral customs is of the utmost importance; mourning is an incredibly sensitive and delicate time, and following proper etiquette is key to keeping a respectful atmosphere where friends and family can celebrate the life of their loved one.

For instance, the first year of death is seen as a mourning period by many traditions across the world. Another is one of the most universal of all human experiences aside from death: food. The ritual gathering and meal after a burial or funeral, shows up in every corner of the globe.

However, signs of sympathy or support, like sending flowers, aren’t always universal. Whether it’s the white or yellow chrysanthemums in East Asian traditions, the floral arrangements in the shape of the cross common in Hispanic communities, or the anything-but-the-cross arrangements for the LDS faith, it is important to be mindful of how you pay your respects and how they will be received.

Similarly, while in the West it is common to wear black to pay your respects, many Eastern traditions, in contrast, compel mourners to wear white.

Some Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox Jews still frown upon cremation. However, the practice has become much more popular. Whether this is frowned upon or not can depend on the belief that the body is necessary for resurrection– after all, being resurrected as a pile of ash will make it difficult to get around.

In Hindu tradition everyone except babies, children and saints are cremated following a brief wake and ritual washing of the body. Eastern Orthodox funerals also include a ritual washing, though cremation is not allowed. Buddhist traditions may include chanting, led either by monks or by family members, while prayers and hymns are common in Judeo-Christian religious ceremonies.

More people are living less religious lives, and so secular, humanist, and various other types of non-religious rituals have become de rigueur, and are more likely to be personally tailored to an individual or family’s tastes and wishes. 

While some cemeteries are just running out of room, green or natural funeral services have skyrocketed in recent years as the environment becomes more of a concern. A new option in the field is to have your remains turned into soil, called human composting. It is only currently available in the state of Washington but the idea and science is truly amazing.

Death may be the great equalizer– but the myriad of rituals surrounding end of life are as diverse as the lives lived: in magnitude, in tradition, and in the shared expression of love and grief for those we miss. 

Live a little, and journey with us through the world of funeral traditions in our ongoing Funeral Roadmap Series. We will continue to create original, fascinating, and useful articles every month.

Steve Byrne

Steve Byrne

Steve Byrne is the co-founder of Final Roadmap, a secure, comprehensive online guide and toolkit for end of life preparation. Steve is passionate about preaching the importance of planning. He is an entrepreneur and businessman. He has started numerous small businesses and has a track record of outstanding customer service and customer sensitivity. His volunteer resume includes working with hospice patients and adults with special needs.

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