The custom of burying the dead arose at the dawn of mankind: during archaeological excavations, burials were discovered, whose age is more than 100 thousand years. Ancient people placed the bodies of the dead in shallow graves along with their jewelry, household items and working tools. Today, funeral traditions are a set of ritual actions prescribed in the canons of the religion that the deceased person preached.
Orthodox funeral traditions
Earthly life in Christianity is seen as a preparation for resurrection and eternal life, therefore, Orthodox traditions regarding funerals include rites that are designed to help the soul of a deceased person move to the abode of God.
The canonical stages of farewell to the last journey in countries where predominantly Orthodox Christians live include:
- Washing the body of the deceased, dressing him in clean clothes and laying him in a coffin. Unmarried girls are dressed in a wedding dress, women – in a closed dress and a scarf, men – in a shirt and suit.
- The eyes of the deceased must be closed, and a cross or icon should be placed in the hands.
- Before the removal of the body, prayers for the dead are read over the deceased, this can be done by a clergyman or any person who knows the texts of such troparia.
- All mirrored surfaces in the house are hung with cloth, the clock is stopped.
- On the day of the funeral, the deceased is buried in the church. The Christian religion does not allow people who have committed suicide to be buried; according to Orthodox canons, only a bishop can give permission for their burial.
- During burial, the clergyman sprinkles the lid of the closed coffin with oil, then the coffin is lowered into the grave, and the priest, followed by all those who say goodbye, throw a handful of earth on the coffin.
- A cross is placed over the grave mound.
- On the day of burial, as well as on the 3rd, 9th and 40th days after death, a commemoration is held – a dinner to which everyone who knew the deceased is invited.
In many European countries, including Russia, funerals are traditionally held on the third day after death: it is believed that the human soul completely leaves the body and finds peace in heaven only after three days. Despite the common religion, funeral ceremonies in each Orthodox country have some differences.
Funeral in Germany
So, funeral traditions in Germany involve cremation or burial of the body in 2-3 weeks after death, all this time the deceased is in the mortuary. Therefore, at the commemoration of the Germans, you will not see a particularly mournful mood among the relatives of the deceased, since in a few weeks the pain of loss subsides.
Gypsy funeral rites
Gypsy funerals combine the traditions of Christianity and Islam. Representatives of this nation believe in reincarnation, therefore, for a successful rebirth, gypsy customs require a special ritual: a bird is brought to the mouth of the deceased, and then released. The decoration of the funeral of the gypsies is very bright, the deceased is put on a full dress with many decorations, and the burial is carried out by a specially trained master of ceremonies.
In Ossetia, the wife must put a strand of hair into the grave of the deceased spouse, and after the grave was closed, a fire was lit not far from her, so that its flame would warm the soul of the newly deceased. Modern graves and coffins entered the Ossetian funeral traditions only in the middle of the last century, before that the dead were buried in stone tombs-crypts. Ossetians have special rules on how to express and accept condolences, and any passer-by is obliged to stop at the gate of the house where the person died and read a memorial prayer for the deceased.
Funeral traditions in Georgia
Funerals in Georgia are traditionally held on the seventh day, so the services of embalmers are in demand here. The coffin with the body is placed on a high pedestal, next to it, on a ritual table, a lamp or a candle, a glass of wine and a plate of grain are placed. For the period of farewell to the deceased, the invitation of professional mourners is practiced. Buried in Georgia in most cases in cemeteries, burial in family tombs is no longer accepted.
At Armenian funerals, according to tradition, before the removal of the body, the coffin is wrapped three times counterclockwise and hit three times against the front door. Among the protective rituals designed to drive the evil force out of the house and prevent it from taking away one of the family members of the deceased, the custom has been preserved to tie the hands of the deceased, they are untied only before closing the coffin lid in the cemetery.
Most Abkhazians, despite their official affiliation to the Christian religion, profess the so-called strict monotheism, so the funeral traditions in Abkhazia differ from those in Russia. In the house where there is a dead person, the doors open wide and the farewell pilgrimage begins. Before the removal of the body, the eldest in the family makes a farewell speech praising the merits of the deceased. Burial takes place in the courtyard of the house or in a public cemetery.
Funeral traditions among Catholics
In accordance with traditions, Catholic funerals include the following main rituals:
- Washing the body of the deceased, dressing him in dark clean clothes and laying him in a coffin. Girls and unmarried girls are buried in a white dress.
- A prayer vigil is obligatory while the coffin with the dead is in the house.
- Funeral mass (funeral service). The ceremony is usually performed in the church, it ends with the absolution, in which the coffin with the body of the deceased is sprinkled with holy water.
In countries where the majority of the population is Catholic (in France, Italy), funeral traditions are almost the same. During the mass, after the end of its prayer part, not only religious, but also secular musical compositions that the deceased loved could be performed. Catholicism permits burial by burying the body in a cemetery or family vault, or by cremating the body and then placing an urn with the ashes in a columbarium.
Of the national characteristics of the organization in Catholic countries of farewell to the last journey, one can note the traditional splendor of funerals in Mexico and the absence in France of the tradition of holding a crowded commemoration. The French usually arrange a modest funeral dinner, at which only family members and people close to the deceased are present.
Funeral traditions in America also correspond to Christian canons, since almost half of the population here are Protestants, another quarter are Catholics. American cemeteries look modest, they do not have fences and pompous monuments, on rectangular tombstones the name of the deceased, the date of his birth and death, and a short epitaph are indicated. A place in a cemetery is often acquired while still alive, and the services of a ritual agency are often paid in advance.
In countries where the dominant religion is Islam, and there are about 50 of them in the world, it is customary to bury within 24 hours after death. The body of the deceased is washed with water with cedar powder and camphor, then with clean water, dressed in a white shroud, and his feet are left bare. The Islamic faith only allows burial in a cemetery, cremation is prohibited. In some Muslim countries, the dead are buried in a coffin; the funeral traditions of the Tatars require the use of a tobut – a stretcher with a lid. Before burial, the imam reads a special prayer over the body of the deceased – janaza.
Funeral in Judaism
Jewish funeral traditions are different from Christian ones. The body of the deceased is laid not on the table, but on the floor, legs are joined, arms are crossed, and completely, with the head covered with a sheet. Before being taken out of the house, the deceased is not left alone, psalms are constantly read over him, and candles are burning at the head of the head.
The burial is carried out on the first day after death, so that a person can appear before the Almighty as soon as possible. The only exceptions are Jewish holidays and the Sabbath, when Jews are ordered to refrain from any work. Cremation or embalming of the body in Judaism is strictly prohibited. They are usually buried in a closed coffin, during the burial, those present should put three shovels of earth into the grave and say “May his soul rest in peace.”
Funeral in Buddhism
Buddhists adhere to the rule to carry out burial on the third day after death. Like Christians, they have a funeral service for the dead and an all-night vigil at the tomb. Since in Buddhism death is considered the transition of the soul to the next level of being, they prepare for it in advance, tuning in to a peaceful and enlightened state – it is believed that this has a positive effect on the karma of the next life.
Rituals accompanying farewell to the last journey in different Buddhist countries:
- Korean funeral traditions involve the use of a fortune teller-astrologer, who indicates the date of the funeral and predicts the fate of the soul that left the body. When preparing the body of the deceased for burial, they cover his nose with cotton so that the soul does not leave the body before all the funeral rituals are performed. Money intended “to pay the spirits for the transition to the afterlife” is placed in the palm of the deceased. There are no post-funeral commemorations in Korea.
- The distinctive features of the funeral traditions in Japan include the application of funeral make-up to the face of the deceased, as well as the placement in the coffin of the “fee for crossing the river of the dead”, which is six coins of any denomination. The most common type of burial in Japan is cremation.
- Several religions are widespread in China: Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Taoism. The Chinese tradition common to all religions is that funerals are held on a day that is calculated in a certain way according to the lunar calendar (several weeks may pass from the date of death). As many people as possible should accompany the deceased: the Chinese believe that the comfort of the newly deceased in the next world depends on the number of people present at the burial. There are two options for burial – cremation or burial of the body to the ground, the first is more common, especially in large cities. Urns with ashes are placed in the local columbarium or family crypt. A funeral dinner is practiced in China, it is usually ordered in a large restaurant hall, and the number of dishes on the table must be odd.
Unusual funeral traditions
In some countries there are very strange burial customs and rites. Here are a few of them.
- In Nepal, “heavenly burial” is practiced. In this mountainous country, it is believed that after death the soul no longer needs a body, so the bodies of the dead are not buried, but given to be eaten by eagles.
- In Ghana, the dead are seen off like the kings of the carnival in Brazil – they don’t cry at the funeral, but have fun, dance music plays instead of the funeral march.
- Funeral customs in one of the provinces of Indonesia – Bali – suggest burial in a common grave. When the number of buried reaches a certain number, the remains are removed and burned. In honor of the cremated, a memorial festive banquet is held.
- The rules and traditions of funerals in Indonesia allow the bodies of the dead to be kept in the house until the family collects the amount necessary for the funeral. To prevent the process of decomposition of the body, the clothes of the deceased are impregnated with a special compound. The deceased is carried to the burial place in an upright position, holding under the arms.
- On the islands of Oceania, the bodies of the dead are placed in a coffin, but they are not buried, but taken to the rocks, where they are left. A few years later, the dead man is taken out of the coffin and led through the streets as a dressed-up mummy.