What happens at traditional funerals?

Last Updated: 8th July 2022

What happens at traditional funerals, also known as full-service funerals, is determined by the processes of funerals that have been carried out in the past.

Whilst many funerals differ from country to county and religion to religion, what happens at traditional funerals can be dependent upon whether or not the funeral is elaborate or more straightforward. 

There are some people that wish to celebrate their deceased loved one’s life, and that funeral they choose to hold is one of rejoicing and celebration.  Others may choose to have a more staid funeral, in which an outpouring of grief is evident.

Either funeral can follow a religious or secular theme, or one in between but what happens at traditional funerals is often up to the deceased person’s loved ones or next of kin to decide what shall be included unless the deceased person has pre-planned their funeral before their death and, in which case, can be followed as per their final wishes.

Although what happens at traditional funerals can be made bespoke and tailored to each funeral ceremony individually, there are a few points to note.

The funeral ceremony, or service, is the main event after a person’s death.  It is a time at which friends, family and loved ones can come together to comfort one another, grieve and celebrate the deceased person’s life.  The service can take a religious or non-religious form and might include music in the way of hymns, psalms, songs, instrumental music; there may be readings from the bible or from literary books or poetry, eulogies read about the deceased person might be prepared by a close family member or friend of the deceased person and prayers or stories.

The committal is part of what happens at traditional funerals in which time the deceased person is buried.  It is often only a small number of mourners that attend the committal, the burial at the cemetery, which is often immediate family members.

The final element of what happens at traditional funerals is wake or reception and is something that follows the ceremony of committal or burial and allows all of the guests that has attended the funeral ceremony to gather together, either at the home of the deceased person’s next of kin or family member, or a hospitality venue to toast the departed, recall fond memories and hold further conversations with fellow mourners.  It is often at wakes that extended family members get together and so catching up on events that have happened is often traditional conversation pieces during a wake or reception.

When considering what happens at traditional funerals whilst the venue in which the funeral takes place can differ it can still remain traditional. 

A traditional funeral can take place in a place of worship (a church is often the place in which traditional funerals take place), a funeral home or, less commonly, a public venue or open space.

The visitation of a deceased person is often held at the funeral directors and it is up to the relatives or next of kin of the deceased as to whether anyone can visit the deceased person or if it should be limited to immediate family or even only certain members of the deceased person’s family.

The committal ceremony at a traditional funeral will often take place in the cemetery, as it is formed as the burial, but can be held at the place in which the deceased person is laid to rest.

What happens at traditional funerals in terms of the order of service often follows a similar pattern. 

Those attending the funeral will be given an order of service when they arrive which will list what will happen in a certain order.

When guests arrive, it might be that music is playing, and is often a piece of music that the deceased person liked or reminds their family or next of kin of.

A religious person often leads traditional funeral services and will introduce him or herself and welcome everybody in attendance.  They will go on to deliver the funeral ceremony using the order of service and prayers, music, including hymns, psalms or songs will be sung by the congregation or group of guests. 

Continuing with what happens at traditional funerals will be readings that may be within a religious format from the bible or stories or poems, often enjoyed by the person who has departed.

An obituary that is provided by the deceased person’s family or next of kin if often read out by the person leading the funeral ceremony and eulogies or tributes are often part of the ceremony that is included by someone very close to the deceased person or their family.

Acknowledgements and thanks follow towards the end of the traditional funeral ceremony before an additional viewing of the deceased person (even if a more formal viewing has taken place prior to the funeral service) and takes place by people queueing and viewing the casket.  This tradition is often limited to certain traditional funerals.

Although traditional funerals end with a closing statement, what happens at traditional funerals often follow an order of service and is recognised by many, which helps those attending a funeral understand what will take place and when during a funeral ceremony.

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