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Funeral Home Traditions

Funeral home traditions today are much the same as they have been throughout the last 100 years (dating back to the early 20th century.) Traditions of a funeral home today include the viewing, a funeral service, a burial ceremony, and a luncheon. Many funeral directors operate on the assumption that these services are the ones that customers will request and expect from the first moment they appear in a funeral home asking for assistance in arranging a funeral for their deceased loved one. While many who offer advice to families arranging a funeral will cautiously urge their clients to remember that there is no such thing as a “standard funeral,” it it nevertheless true that the four funeral home traditions mentioned above have come to be thought of, across the world in modern culture, as required parts to a complete funeral. Here is a brief guide to each of these funeral home traditions that have become so integral to memorial ceremonies today.

There are several traditions that surround funeral homes, as well as many urban mythsThe viewing is the funeral home tradition that has the most significance for many people. That is because this tradition allows friends and loved ones to spend as much time as they need to prayerfully offer their last wishes in the presence of the deceased's “earthly vessel.” It is not uncommon for a viewing to last for more than one day (in cases in which thousands of people will be expected to participate, a viewing may last for a week or more) and for individual participants to devote upwards of an hour to grieving meditation as they kneel before – or even touch – the deceased's body. The viewing tradition is also often referred to as a “wake,” but that name for the tradition has waned in recent years, perhaps, due to a disconcerting urban legend that says the name came about after one or two bodies did, in fact, awaken during a viewing. Experts assert that there is little validity to such stories and the term wake most likely evolved from a similarly pronounced Ancient Greek word that meant watch.

The funeral service is the namesake tradition of funeral home traditions, so many people will argue that it is the most important of the traditions. While that debate is best left for another day, the fact remains that the funeral is certainly the center point tradition of all funeral home traditions. A funeral ceremony is typically held in a chapel of some sort, and most modern funeral homes today have such a facility available for rental. A church chapel is also a very common place in which to hold a funeral, and, for some families, a church-based funeral is a regimented tradition. Most funeral directors can quite easily arrange for a funeral to be hosted in a church (or any other place, for that matter) regardless of whether the funeral home traditionally offers its own chapel for funerals. Regardless of whether a funeral is held in a chapel owned by a funeral home or a church, funeral home traditions typically allow that the ceremony be led by a member of clergy. But that is where the similarities of traditions ends when it comes to the funeral service. Various religious customs vary widely in the use of funeral home traditions, so it's safe to say that a funeral service can have a great many different twists, all of which are certainly intended to honor and celebrate the life of the beloved deceased.

A wake is part of a funeral home tradition that is actually optional to the familyA burial ceremony is often, for a variety of reasons that psychologists and sociologists have certainly pondered, the least attended portion of the funeral home traditions that are customarily followed in a memorial service. The this funeral home tradition typically involves the same pastor who led the funeral service, only in this case, the ceremony happens in the vary grave yard in which the deceased is to be laid to rest. Further, tradition usually allows that the ceremony be conducted directly over the grave itself. In the earliest history of this funeral home tradition, friends and family of the deceased (known as pall bearers) had two chief responsibilities: transporting the body from the church to the grave site for the burial ceremony, and then physically digging the hole upon which the casket will be lowered. Modern tradition has shifted this second responsibility to professional landscapers employed by the cemetery itself. These people have usually prepared the grave well in advance of the burial ceremony and typically conduct the burial long after the last mourner has left the cemetery.

And finally, we come to the last of modern funeral home traditions, the luncheon. Most funeral homes are prepared to host this tradition themselves, but many families traditionally conduct it at a family home or some other special place. (A church reception hall is also a common spot, too.) Contrary to the burial ceremony mentioned above, this portion of a memorial ceremony is often the best-attended of all the funeral home traditions. Cynics may say that's a function of the free food that is usually abundantly on display during this tradition, but a better explanation may be that the celebratory, light-hearted mood that tends to prevail at a funeral luncheon is just the thing that most mourners need to best pay tribute to the spirit of their lost loved-one.

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