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Incorporating Culture and Tradition into a Funeral

Posted on February 18, 2021

Culture and tradition are woven throughout our waking lives. In death, celebrating those traditions is one of the best ways to be remembered.

Whether or not you opt for a celebration that reflects your faith, planning ahead is essential. There are many facets of culture and tradition in funeral planning. Religion can be involved, and may greatly influence funeral proceedings with a set of defined customs.

Letting your family know how you would like to be remembered, as well as which traditions you’d like incorporated is particularly important.

There are also family and personal traditions. This is where your personality will shine, giving your loved ones an opportunity to remember you in the way they know best.

Where to incorporate tradition and culture

Flowers (or, in lieu of flowers)

This one is easy. If you have a favorite flower or a flower that’s symbolic to you, request it in your funeral plans.

It’s common to request a charitable donation in lieu of flowers if your faith does not commonly use flowers during a ceremony, or if you aren’t especially fond of them. This is a great way to commemorate and uplift a cause that’s important to you.

Decorations or adornments

Just like there is no typical funeral, there is no typical casket. You can select anything from a plain pine box, to an extravagant walnut casket with plush lining. If you’ve opted to be cremated, there may not be a casket at all and you may instead select an urn.

No matter the case, there are so many creative ways to personalize a casket or urn. You can drape it in a flag from your culture, or, adorn it with a religious symbol, like a cross. If you opt for an urn, you could have a custom piece made by a local artist, incorporating symbols from your life.

Attire for the deceased

In funeral customs rooted in distinct cultures and beliefs, there is often prescribed attire for the deceased, such as a white cotton shroud for burial in Jewish and Islamic faiths.

If there are no specific guidelines for your burial clothing, make sure to let your family know what you’d like to be buried in. Maybe you have a favorite outfit, or a favorite accessory. Incorporating clothing you love adds extra care and a personal touch that gives your loved ones a better representation of the person they knew in life.

Music

Our taste in music is often something all of our loved ones know about us. If you have a favorite song, be sure to request it’s included in your funeral proceedings. There are so many opportunities for music during a funeral, such as when your casket enters or departs. Or, in the middle of the ceremony.

Different religions or cultures often have music symbolic to them. One example is bagpipes. These are often incorporated in Scottish or Irish funerals, or funerals for a police officer. Another example is hymns. Those with strong Christian beliefs likely have a favorite hymn they’d like to have shared with guests at their funeral, which should be accounted for in the planning process.

Headstones or grave markers

Headstones can include more than just your name and date of death. They also include what’s known as an epitaph. This is where you can customize your headstone according to a phrase you love or the description of your choice.

Here are a few famous examples:

  • “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” - From Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s grave. This was taken from Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby.
  • “She did it the hard way” Actress Bette Davis.
  • “Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore’” Writer Edgar Allen Poe.

Obituary

You can let your family know what you’d like to get across by writing your own obituary. This is a great opportunity for storytelling or reflecting on the traditions that made you happiest.

If you come from a particular faith or worshipped at a particular institution, you can let your family know you’d like to have that detail included in your obituary. It can be helpful for letting other members of your faith-based community know about your passing.

Post-funeral gathering

Do you have a favourite food? A brand of drink you always buy? A favourite card game? This would be the best opportunity for your family and friends to toast to you, or break bread in your honor.

Often, post-funeral celebrations are a welcome relief from the stress and grief that comes from a funeral. It’s a chance to unwind after all that planning and those who were closest to you will get together to reflect on your memories together. This is a great time to incorporate some of those personal traditions or cultural elements, especially when it comes to food and drink.

Incorporating personal traditions and values

Funerals are meant to be a reflection, and a celebration, of your life. This is best expressed by including things that are important to you in life, like hobbies or traditions.

In order to have your personal traditions shine through, creating a funeral plan can help your family understand your wishes and give them time to plan for these special things.

To make this easier for your family, ensure that items of personal significance are as available as possible. For example, keeping items that you want to be buried with in a specific place. Or, organizing a document of songs you wish to have played at your funeral, along with passages and quotes you’d like to have read.

A couple other ways to incorporate personal traditions and values include:

Items to be placed in a casket

It’s common to be buried with a few items of personal significance. Or, just having those items displayed in or on your casket throughout a wake and funeral.

Let’s say, for example, you’re a lover of baseball. You might want to be buried with a favourite piece of memorabilia, or even buried in a jersey of a player you loved.

Choosing one or two items of significance can add a personal touch and enable your family to think of you among things that made you happiest, even in death.

Funeral program

Often a printed program is distributed at a funeral. It may include a copy of the obituary, a list of speakers and pallbearers, as well as a quote or two. These programs are like souvenirs, usually saved and tucked away in memory boxes. This is a great opportunity to select a quote, song or passage that best represents you so it can be printed in the program.

Incorporating family traditions

Part of a tight-knit family? Chances are there are some stories to tell and some traditions worth noting.

Traditions are entirely unique to families, but here are a few common ways of incorporating a traditional touch:

  • Adorning the casket with a family tartan or crest.
  • Sharing family stories, either in the funeral program or during speeches.
  • Including a token of thanks for attendees, like a favourite cookie recipe wrapped in a gift bag or box.
  • Playing a home movie or including a scrapbook wall of family photographs.
  • Placing dirt from a special place, like a family ancestral home, on top of the casket during the burial.
  • Family members singing your favourite hymn or song at the funeral.

Considering a religious funeral?

Funerals vary widely by culture and religion. Your cultural background and your wishes to adhere with traditions of your faith should be considered when it comes to funeral planning.

There are some distinct customs by faith. We’ve outlined them below, though this list is by no means exhaustive or representative of the entire scope of each faith.

Traditional Jewish funeral customs are marked by a specific set of rules according to Jewish Law. Those rules include, but are not limited to:

  • The body of the deceased is washed thoroughly.
  • The body is buried only in a plain, pine coffin.
  • The deceased is buried wearing a simple white shroud.
  • The body is guarded from the moment of death until after burial is complete.

Buddhist funeral customs vary widely by sect. In traditional funerals, the family wears white and mourners walk with sticks to symbolize they require support in their grief.

Roman Catholic funerals typically are accompanied by Mass. At the entrance to the church, the deceased or their casket are sprinkled with holy water and covered with a pall. Communion will often take place at Roman Catholic funerals.

In Islamic funeral customs, the body is bathed and covered in white cotton. Burials typically take place as soon as possible after death. A person sitting next to the deceased reads from the Koran/Qur’an and an Imam reads passages from the Koran/Qur’an.

No matter what your beliefs are, it’s paramount to include those details in your funeral planning. Planning ahead is the most important aspect. Often, funerals that represent certain faiths require additional preparation. You might need to book a church for the funeral proceedings or ensure that a representative of your faith is available to say a few words. Let your family know how strongly you’d like your faith represented in your celebration, and document specific details accordingly.

Sources:
https://www.jfedgmw.org/jewish-funeral-customs-saying-goodbye-to-a-loved-one
https://www.funeralwise.com/customs/islam/
https://www.funeralwise.com/customs/buddhist/
https://www.funeralwise.com/customs/catholic/

Author(s): My Coda's Editorial Team

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