Thursday, March 26, 2009

Burial/Funeral Custom Tidbits

The topic for the April edition of the Graveyard Rabbits Carnival is burial customs.  In preparing to write this article, I set out to find an interesting custom to explore.  What I came across were many interesting tidbits, none of which seemed big enough to discuss in one post.  So instead, I am going to talk about several of them here in this article.  Please not that these refer mainly to American customs, and may vary by religion.

Tidbit #1

The visitation before the funeral, also known as a wake, is a fairly standard custom in today's society.  Because preservation of the body is done mainly through embalming, a visitation can occur a few days after death, and may last a couple of days.  The visitation offers a chance for family, friends, and acquaintances to pay their final respects to the deceased.  But how did this originated?

In addition to the social aspect mentioned above, a wake served a practical purpose back in the day when preservation of the body was more difficult.  The deceased was typically laid out in someone's home.  Someone was always with the body to keep it safe from insects, animals, and body snatchers.

Tidbit #2

Before the mid-eighteenth century, Americans were typically wrapped in a cloth sheet or blanket for burial.  Coffins began to emerge around the mid-eighteenth century.  They were made of wood and usually constructed by a carpenter or cabinetmaker.  What's interesting is that they were constructed based on the deceased's measurements.  Around the early nineteenth century, metal coffins emerged.  And about the same time the mass-production of coffins began.  Eventually, coffins became known as caskets.  If you'd like to know more about caskets and their designs, check out the patent search on Google.

Tidbit #3

Today, wearing black or dark clothing is still a pretty common custom.  But it's not practised in the same way today.  People believed that the color black warded off spirits.  Additionally, it became custom for people to wear black for a specific period of grieving.  For example, a widow would wear black for two years, whereas a grandchild or sibling would wear black for six months.

Tidbit #4

Postmortem photography is evidentially still popular today, although not touted so much as it used to be for various reasons.  Many people would photograph the deceased, especially children, as they may not have lived long enough to have had a photograph taken when they were alive.  These photographs would be hung on walls and placed in albums, just like any other photograph.  They were also used on mourning cards.  Many times, a flower or rosary would be placed in the deceased's hands to signify death.

There are so many more interesting tidbits related to burial and funeral customs, but time is limiting and I am not able to share them all.  I hope that you found these interesting and maybe even learned something new.

1 comments:

lindalee

I'm glad that funeral homes came into existence. I don't think I could live in a house with a dead family member in a coffin downstairs. Also, I had never heard of a wake until I moved to Ohio. In Pittsburgh, at least where I lived, it was simply called a "viewing".

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