Funerals and mourning: Traditions around the world

Throughout the years, people all around the world have mourned the passing of their loved ones and recognised the event with many different traditions, rites and ceremonies.

Whether it’s a raucous and vibrant event or a more sombre and solemn affair, there are many ways of mourning the death of a loved one and celebrating the life they have lived.

Traditions around the globe

There are many factors that affect the way funerals and mourning traditions are conducted, from culture and upbringing to faith and philosophy.

In many Western countries such as Australia, where Christianity is the predominant religion, traditional funerals involve a ceremony where the body is placed in a casket and friends and family gather to remember the life of their loved one, before the burial rites or cremation takes place. Dress code is traditionally black, and sometimes a wake is held as well.

For indigenous Australians, the Aboriginal culture upholds the idea that we come from the land, and when a person passes away their spirit goes back to join the Dreaming Ancestors. Traditions differ among various groups, but special dances and wailing songs are conducted during a ceremony to mark the person’s passing.
Often, after a person has passed away Aborigines will not speak their name. Some close family members may also be restricted from talking at all during the period of mourning.

In New Orleans the concept of the jazz funeral is a long-held tradition, blending different aspects of Nigerian, West African, African-American and French customs. A marching band playing music leads mourners as they gather to remember the loved one who has passed away.

For some Buddhist funeral ceremonies, the rites last for an extended period of time after the person has died. Mourners gather to chant sutras (Buddhist texts) to help guide the soul of the person, and the process ends with the cremation of the body. Other religions such as Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism also require a cremation.

On the other hand, many Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhists choose a sky burial, a traditional ceremony where the body is left exposed to the elements in order to return it to the earth after the soul has passed on.

According to the Nationality Research Institute of the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences, around 80 per cent of Tibetans still choose to have a sky burial after their death.1

Muslim families will mark the death of a loved one by reciting special funeral prayers at the mosque. The grave is dug at a perpendicular angle towards Mecca, Islam’s holiest site, and the body is placed on its right side within it. Each mourner present will add three handfuls of soil into the grave until it is filled.

In Jewish funerals, prayers, a eulogy and psalms will be read out, with the eulogies delivered by either the rabbi or family members. Traditionally, flowers are not required and donations to charity are often made instead. A Jewish funeral is held either at a synagogue, the gravesite or the funeral home.

Taoist funeral traditions will differ depending on the individual sect, as well as the age and status of the deceased person. However, most Taoists are buried in rectangular-shaped coffins made with three humps.
A priest will begin the funeral by chanting Taoist scripture, while mourners are encouraged to grieve loudly for the deceased. The coffin is nailed shut by the eldest son, but mourners must turn away both when the coffin is being sealed and when it is placed into the grave, as seeing these acts are forbidden.

Preparing for your funeral

When it comes to the end of life traditions and ceremonies, it’s important for many people to feel that they have control over how their funeral service will be conducted. Whether it adheres to tradition or forges an entirely new path, being able to plan how your funeral will be held can give a feeling of peace to many people.
Arranging your funeral the way you would prefer can be expensive, with the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) estimating the costs to range from $4,000 for a cremation to around $14,000 for a more elaborate funeral.2

Funeral or Final Expenses insurance can help your family prepare for your end of life ceremony, easing the financial burden. This type of insurance policy provides a benefit that can go towards not just the funeral costs but other expenses as well, as decided by your beneficiaries.

With this financial benefit in place, you can feel secure that your funeral will be arranged the way you would like it to be and your family will have some extra monetary support during this sensitive time.

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  1. After death, Tibetans still prefer sky burial, The Buddhist Channel
  2. Paying for your funeral, MoneySmart

These articles are provided as reference material to allow more informed decision making, but are not intended as being a complete source of information on any topic. All readers should make their own independent analysis on the topic to make sure they have considered the aspects that are important to them.