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Tips on Attending Cultural Funerals

By Jeffrey Meier

Many people see funerals as a very difficult time that represents the loss of a loved one. However, many cultures handle funeral proceedings in different ways based on tradition. So while you may be accustomed to the process of meeting at the funeral home, having the service, trailing the hearse with casket to the cemetery then burying the body, you may be surprised by the ways other cultures bid farewell to their family and friends.

Traditional Hispanic Funerals

The word Hispanic in and of itself can be ambiguous, as it is used to describe a number of nationalities and ethnicities of Spanish-speaking individuals. However, to group people from Spain with people from Brazil would be doing a disservice to those who have highly-traditional cultural backgrounds that they are immensely proud of and identify with. So for this reason, when looking at the traditional Hispanic funeral, it will be a generalization of similar traditions that seem to stretch across more than a few Hispanic cultures and is not intended to work as a "catch-all" for all of the cultures.

The more common understanding of funerals and deaths within Hispanic culture is the idea that life and death are viewed similarly as something to be celebrated, not feared, for it is the acknowledgment of a soul's home-going. Since many people of Hispanic heritage are Catholic, they tend to take on the traditions of Catholicism, which treat funerals as a part of the process of dying - not necessarily waiting until after the death has occurred.

In this case, funerals often begin when a person is on his or her death bed. At this time, the communion of last rights is performed, which includes the anointing of the ill, the hearing of their confessions, prayers, Communion and a blessing for peace. Someone within the family is normally sure to be present with the dying individual until they pass on. And after the person has passed on, someone continues to stay with the body until it is prepared for the burial and wake - the wake being a social time when friends and family come together to eat, laugh and listen to music while talking about their fond memories of the loved on who has passed on while waiting for the burial. Lit candles and flowers are very important and highly visible during the wake, as well as the funeral.

The official funeral takes place the day after the wake with a priest or clergyman presiding over the ceremony. Often times, people place personal items and gifts on the casket to help the deceased have a successful and loving journey to the afterworld. After the ceremony is complete, the burial takes place - often times in the homeland of the deceased as a way to honor and be close to family members who have passed on. The burial represents a new phase and beginning of freedom for the deceased - now they are able to help those they love who are still living.

After funerals and burials, families usually have a gathering or reception with food and more time to come together and enjoy each other's company - and once again pray for and remember their loved one who has moved forward to the spirit world.

Chinese Buddhist Funeral Customs

Whereas some cultures allow for cremation, the Chinese societies that practice Buddhism tend to stay away from anything that is deemed improper in arranging funerals for doing so can cause ill fortune to the family of the deceased. While the specific funeral rites and burial customs can vary depending on the age of the deceased, the marital status, how he or she died and his or her status in society, much of the process is the same for all individuals.

There are many examples of how the deceased is treated differently depending on age and status. For instance, if an unmarried son dies before his parents, the parents are not allowed to bring his body home to the family after death and instead it must be left at the funeral parlor. Also, the parents are not allowed to offer prayers for the son because being a younger person he is not owed the same respect as an older, married person with children. Even more, if a baby or small child dies, no service can be provided at all because no respect can be shown due to the young age. However, if a person is older and highly respected, the family must perform the most elaborate service for him or her, even if they go into debt doing so.

When the death occurs, the family must immediately cover all statues of deities in the house with red paper and remove mirrors to avoid seeing the coffin (which is brought to the home) in the mirror because it is believed to cause death shortly after. Also, a white cloth is hung across the main entrance to the house with a gong placed on the left of the doorway if the deceased is a male and to the right if the deceased is a female.

Before the family can place the body in the coffin, it must be cleaned with a damp towel and dusted with talcum powder. Then it is dressed in his or her best clothing from head to toe. Once the corpse is dressed and placed in the coffin, the body is covered with a light blue cloth and the face is covered with a yellow one.

During the wake, the coffin either rests in the house or outside of the house to represent the person dying in the home or away for the home, respectively. The family and friends gather for the cake and eat food placed in front of the coffin. And the family also performs a series of rituals and prayers to respect the dead.

After the wake ceremonies are completed, the coffin is nailed shut and carried to side of the road to be additionally prayed over before being taken (usually by hearse) to burial grounds that are normally found on hillsides for better feng shui. When the casket is buried the family turns away from the coffin to show respect and later the mourners' clothes are to be buried to evade bad luck.

There are many more ways that different cultures perform funerals in order to pay respects to their loved ones, but these are just a few. No matter how any one culture handles its funerals, they can all agree that their traditions and customs are all meant to send their friends and family members to a better, more peaceful place.

Jeffrey Meier at Jam727 Enterprises at http://www.thearticlehome.com blog offers even more detailed information on a wide variety of topics.


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