Funerals Around the World Series: Europe

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Across the world, families perform rituals of mourning, ceremonies of respect, celebrations of life, and ordinances of honor for those who have passed on. In a previous post, we discussed some funeral traditions culturally ascribed to The Americas. Let’s take a look at just a few European traditions to better understand their cultural influences.

Funerals in the United Kingdom:

Traditionally, in the UK, a death is announced in an obituary: small notice in the paper that often includes a picture of and short tribute to the deceased. Funerals usually include wakes, processions, and a gathering at the grave site where guests throw small amounts of soil onto the coffin as it is lowered into the ground. The white lily is the most popular funeral flower in the UK and it is customary for guests to wear black to the proceedings.

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German Funeral Customs:

Cremation is very common in Germany, but following a long governmental tradition, cremated remains have to be buried in a cemetery. Many people in Germany choose to have simple, unmarked graves or blank headstones. Much of the funeral industry in this country is controlled by the state. Cemetery plots are often rented for a period of a few decades, and then reused for another burial if the rental period is not extended. The funeral proceedings are often very solemn, serious, and usually fairly simple.

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Funerals in Italy:

Traditionally, Italian funerals were theatrical and public affairs. Posters announcing the event were placed throughout towns and villages. It is customary for neighbors and friends to bring over food to the family of the deceased as soon as the death is announced. For close family there is a period of mourning for a person who has passed away. Italian funerals often include an open casket viewing, and it is acceptable to kiss the cheek or forehead of the deceased to show love and respect. Many people are buried in mausoleums, which are above-ground buildings that hold multiple corpses.

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Russian Funeral Traditions:

Russian funerals usually follow Eastern Orthodox religious guidelines, which means that burial is the only option as cremation is forbidden. The preparation of the body is very specific and important: the body is washed in warm water, dressed in all-white clothing that is usually handmade and includes a white belt, and then the body is laid in an open casket for a few days at the deceased’s home or the home of a family member. There is a wake, a procession, and a service that incorporate specific prayers and hymns. After the burial ceremony, mourners consume koliva, a traditional food dish of boiled wheat mixed with honey.

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