The passing of a loved one is a universal human experience, and the ways in which we honor and remember the deceased are as varied and diverse as the cultures that exist on our planet. Funeral customs from around the world often reflect unique cultural values, religious beliefs, and social practices.
In this blog post, we explore 20 fascinating funeral customs that showcase the rich tapestry of traditions that help us mourn, remember, and celebrate life.
Dia de los Muertos (Mexico)
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday that honors deceased loved ones. Families create colorful altars with offerings such as food, drinks, and sympathy and funeral flowers, including marigolds—the traditional flower of the dead.
This celebration reflects the belief that the dead return to visit the living during this time.
Sky Burial (Tibet)
In Tibetan Buddhist culture, sky burials are a way to dispose of the deceased by placing the body on a mountaintop to be consumed by vultures.
This practice is rooted in the belief that the soul leaves the body after death, and the remains are returned to nature to nourish other life forms.
Jazz Funerals (New Orleans, USA)
A jazz funeral in New Orleans combines traditional African, French, and American customs. The ceremony features a brass band that plays somber tunes during the procession to the cemetery, followed by upbeat jazz music to celebrate the deceased’s life.
The Malagasy people of Madagascar practice Famadihana, also known as “the turning of the bones.” This unique custom involves exhuming the deceased’s remains, rewrapping the bones in fresh cloth, and dancing with the wrapped remains before returning them to the family tomb.
Hanging Coffins (China and the Philippines)
The Bo people of China and the Igorot people of the Philippines practice hanging coffins, where the deceased’s coffin is suspended on the side of a cliff. This is believed to bring the soul closer to heaven and protect the remains from scavengers.
Toraja Funeral (Indonesia)
In the Toraja culture of Indonesia, funerals are elaborate, multi-day events that involve the entire community. The deceased is dressed in traditional clothing, and the body is displayed in a specially built structure.
Animals are sacrificed, and their spirits are believed to accompany the deceased to the afterlife.
Another Toraja funeral custom, Ma’nene, is a ritual where the deceased’s body is exhumed, cleaned, and dressed in new clothes before being paraded around the village. This ceremony reaffirms the bond between the living and the dead.
Green Burials (Various Countries)
Green burials are an eco-friendly alternative to traditional burials and cremations. The body is placed in a biodegradable coffin or a shroud and buried without embalming fluids or concrete vaults. This method allows the body to decompose naturally, returning nutrients to the earth.
Viking Funeral (Ancient Scandinavia)
In ancient Scandinavian cultures, the deceased, particularly high-ranking individuals, were sometimes placed on a ship with their belongings, set ablaze, and sent out to sea. This dramatic farewell symbolized the journey to the afterlife.
Sati is an ancient, now outlawed, Hindu funeral custom in which a widow would self-immolate on her husband’s funeral pyre. This practice was believed to cleanse the couple’s sins and ensure their reunion in the afterlife. Thankfully, this dangerous and tragic custom has been banned since the 19th century.
Kiribati Funeral (Kiribati)
On the Pacific island of Kiribati, deceased individuals are buried in the front yard of their family homes. This practice keeps the memory of the deceased close to the family, and the gravesite is often decorated with colorful flowers, including sympathy flowers from friends and neighbors.
Burial Beads (South Korea)
In South Korea, some families choose to have their loved one’s ashes compressed into colorful, decorative beads. These burial beads are often displayed in the home, allowing families to maintain a connection with the deceased.
Cremation Ceremonies (India and Nepal)
In Hinduism, cremation is a common funeral practice. Cremation ceremonies in India and Nepal involve placing the body on a funeral pyre by a riverbank, which is then set on fire. The ashes are later scattered in the sacred river, symbolizing the soul’s return to the cycle of life and death.
New Orleans Second Line (New Orleans, USA)
The New Orleans Second Line is a funeral tradition that celebrates the life of the deceased with a lively, musical street procession. Friends, family, and even strangers dance behind a brass band, waving handkerchiefs and twirling umbrellas as they follow the funeral procession.
Cave Burials (Hawaii)
In some traditional Hawaiian communities, deceased individuals are buried in caves. The body is wrapped in a traditional burial cloth called kapa, and the bones are sometimes later collected and placed in a special container called an ‘ahu’ula.
Tree Burials (Australia)
In the Australian Aboriginal culture, tree burials are a traditional funeral custom. The deceased’s body is placed on a platform in a tree and left to decompose naturally, returning to the earth and nourishing the tree.
Mourning Periods (Judaism)
In Jewish tradition, a seven-day mourning period called shiva is observed after the burial. During this time, the bereaved family stays at home to grieve and receive visitors who offer condolences, often bringing food and sympathy flowers as gestures of support.
Irish Wake (Ireland)
The Irish wake is a social gathering that takes place before a funeral, where friends and family come together to celebrate the life of the deceased. The body is traditionally laid out in the family home, and visitors share stories, sing songs, and offer condolences.
Ghanaian Fantasy Coffins (Ghana)
In Ghana, some families commission elaborately designed fantasy coffins that reflect the deceased’s profession, interests, or personality. These unique coffins, shaped like animals, cars, or even cameras, celebrate the individual’s life and accomplishments.
Flower Ceremonies (Japan)
In Japan, flower ceremonies called koden are a common funeral custom. Mourners offer monetary gifts in envelopes decorated with condolence messages and sympathy flowers, usually white chrysanthemums. The money is used to cover funeral expenses and support the bereaved family.
From sky burials in Tibet to flower ceremonies in Japan, funeral customs from around the world showcase the diverse ways that different cultures mourn, remember, and honor the deceased.
These traditions, including the use of sympathy flowers, offer valuable insights into our shared human experiences of loss and grief. As we celebrate and learn from these customs, we deepen our understanding and empathy for the rich tapestry of cultural practices that make up our world.