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Funeral Customs: What to expect when attending culturally different funerals

It is important to approach all funeral services with respect but in today’s multi-cultural society it is becoming ever more common for people to attend funerals with customs and traditions that are different from what they know. However, this doesn’t mean you should feel afraid of doing the wrong thing and upsetting the family or a fellow mourner.

To help you prepare and feel more comfortable when attending a funeral whose customs you might not be familiar with, we have created this summary of what to expect at different funerals of various religions practised within Australia. Select from the links below to go directly to a section, and use the blue arrow on the bottom right-hand-side to return to the top.

Anglican (Church of England) Funeral Traditions

Beliefs around death

Followers of the Anglican faith, believe in eternal life through their faith in Jesus Christ. After death, people will go to Heaven or Hell depending on their faith and those who believe in Jesus will be resurrected again on Judgment day.

Cremation and embalming

Anglicanism has no set rules on how the body should be treated after death. Embalming, known as the process of caring for the body after death, is permissible. Cremation is also acceptable for Anglicans.

Before the funeral

Families of the deceased will sometimes decide to hold a viewing of the body a day or two before the funeral. This is normally open to all mourners, however, the bereaved may sometimes limit the viewing to close family members only.

At the funeral

It’s customary for an Anglican funeral to be held within a week of passing and will usually take place in a church, funeral home, chapel or as a graveside service in the cemetery.
The service will be structured around a sermon, the singing of hymns, readings from scripture and eulogies delivered by family or close friends. The presiding minister will lead the mourners in prayer and Holy Communion is sometimes offered. Participation in every element of the service is not expected. So, if you do not wish to take part in things like the prayers or receiving Holy Communion, it is ok to sit quietly during those times.
If the body of the loved one is present, the casket will always remain closed. If for some reason the body cannot be present at the funeral, a memorial service will take place with a photo placed as a focal point of the service.

Attending the burial service

At the end of the service, an announcement will be made if the interment of the body or ashes will be open to the public or limited to the family. If it is to be a private affair, please respect the family in this decision.

After the funeral

A reception will usually be held either at the church or in the home of a family member. This gives a chance for mourners to spend time with one another and remember the life of their lost loved one.

What to wear

Traditional clothing is recommended for an Anglican funeral. This commonly includes dark, subdued classic suits for men and simple dresses or skirts and blouses for women.
If the family has specified other styles or colours of dress you should follow those requests.

Mourning periods

Members of the Anglican Church do not have any prescribed periods of mourning.

Baptist Funeral Traditions

Beliefs around death

As a denomination of the Christian faith, Baptists believe that after death they will enter eternal life through their faith in Jesus Christ. However, Baptist’s are allowed to have variations in theological opinion so specifics around this may vary between churches.

Cremation and embalming

There are no restrictions around either Cremation or embalming for the Baptist religion.

Before the funeral

Families will often hold a viewing of the body a day or two before the funeral, at either a funeral home or a church.

At the funeral

As Baptist’s have no set rules around how a funeral should run, services can vary between congregations. However, they will generally follow similar guidelines.
The funeral is usually held within one week of death and is presided over by a Pastor. The Pastor will deliver scripture readings and lead the mourners in hymns. Sometimes other popular songs, of the family’s choosing, are played if they are deemed appropriate for the service. It’s common for family and close friend to deliver eulogies as well. A typical service will last 45-60 minutes.
You may be asked to stand during the singing of hymns, the Pastor will indicate this at the time. If you choose not to participate you can stand quietly with the rest of the congregation.

Attending the burial service

Mourners are usually invited to a short graveside service to inter the body at its final resting place.
If the body has been cremated, there may be a short service at a later date where the ashes will either be buried, spread over an area, or placed into a memorial site at the crematorium.

After the funeral

A Reception is often held after the service and will usually take place at the Church, the home of the bereaved or sometimes at a private venue. This will often involve food and give mourners a chance to talk and remember the life of their lost loved one together. Mourners from the Church community often help and contribute food to share.

What to wear

Black or dark-coloured clothing is traditionally worn to a Baptist funeral. This typically includes a suit and tie for men, or a skirt and blouse or dress for women. However, some Baptists prefer you to wear brighter clothes to reflect the personality of the deceased. If this is to be the case mourners will be informed before the service.
In either case, it’s important to dress respectfully for the occasion.

Gifts and flowers

It is appropriate to send flowers to the home of the bereaved or the location of the funeral if you wish. However, the family will sometimes request charitable donations in lieu of flowers.

Mourning periods

Members of the Baptist Church do not have any prescribed mourning periods.

Buddhist Funeral Traditions

Beliefs around death

For Buddhists, death is acknowledged as the transition from this life into the next, where the soul is reincarnated and brought closer to a state of absolute bliss, called Nirvana.
Although this view is widely recognised amongst Buddhists, it is accepted that this belief may differ slightly according to the type of Buddhism being practised.

Cremation and embalming

Buddhists have no set customs for how the body should be treated after death and the individual may convey their wishes to family as to a preference for being either buried or cremated.
Embalming is not encouraged unless absolutely necessary.

Before the funeral

Some families may arrange for a viewing to occur before the funeral itself. During the viewing, visitors will go to the casket and bow as a sign of honour and respect.
Once this custom has been followed, visitors may leave the viewing or stay and continue to pay their respects with the family.

At the funeral

A Buddhist funeral is a simple, solemn and dignified ceremony that typically takes place in a temple or the home of the bereaved, and will usually be held within one week of passing.
When entering the service, mourners should approach the altar and bow with their hands together in prayer position, taking time to reflect on the person who has passed away briefly before sitting. After each mourner has paid their respects, a Monk will usually lead the service and deliver a sermon. Eulogies may also be read, and chanting by monks is common.
If you are familiar with the chants, you’re welcome to join in. Otherwise, you can choose to observe the ceremony in silence. Monks also will commonly sit higher and you should stand when they stand if you are able to.

After the funeral

If the body was cremated, the bereaved will usually collect the ashes to be interred at the crematorium itself, kept in an urn at home, or scattered over land or sea depending on their wishes.
If the body is to be buried, close friends or family will carry the casket to the hearse, followed by the remaining mourners in procession. Monks or family members may also start chanting during this time. Chanting can continue until the burial is complete.
A gathering after the funeral is not common.

What to wear

When attending a Buddhist funeral, you should wear plain, white clothing. Displays of wealth and affluence, such as expensive watches or jewellery, are not appropriate.

Gifts and flowers

If you wish to make a financial donation to the family, this can usually be done at the viewing.

Mourning periods

Buddhists will traditionally hold memorial services on the 3rd, 17th, 49th and 100th day after death. These dates, however, can change at the family’s discretion.

Catholic Funeral Traditions

Beliefs around death

After death, Catholics believe they will enter the afterlife and go to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory (a place to be purified and achieve the necessary holiness to enter Heaven), depending on how they have lived their lives.

Cremation and embalming

Catholics prefer to be buried when they die and embalming may be necessary if the casket will be open during the prayer vigil.
Cremation is also acceptable so long as the body is present at the funeral.

Before the funeral

It’s common for Catholics to hold a Prayer Vigil the night before the funeral, giving mourners a chance to gather and pray in remembrance of their lost loved one. This special and sacred time can take place at the home of the bereaved, at a chapel or in a church.
The Prayer Vigil can sometimes include hymns and scripture readings, as well as eulogies and other tributes from friends and family.

At the funeral

A Catholic funeral is similar to a Christian funeral with the singing of hymns and readings from scriptures, however, it’s not as common to include eulogies in the service.
Mass and the receiving of Holy Communion for mourners baptised into the Catholic Church can be part of the funeral liturgy if the service is led by an ordained priest. If the funeral is presided over by a deacon or held on a day where Mass is not allowed, then it will not be included.
Sometimes, the congregation may stand during hymns. If you are physically able too, you should stand as well. All mourners are expected to bow their head during prayers or stay seated. If you’re not baptised, then you should sit quietly while Communion is received.

At the burial service

After the service, the deceased is usually transported to a cemetery for a formal committal or burial ceremony, presided over by the priest.
If the body is to be cremated, a final service may take place at the crematorium.

After the funeral

Sometimes a reception or a wake is held after the funeral, but this normally happens before. This can be included at the time of the Prayer Vigil.

What to wear

Smart, dark clothing should be worn to a Catholic funeral. This typically includes a black or dark-coloured suit and tie for men and a smart black dress or suit for women.
Some churches are becoming more open to colourful clothing but this should be avoided unless you have been informed otherwise by the family.

Gifts and flowers

Flowers and cards can be brought to the funeral mass. Usually, you would leave these with the Funeral Director as you enter the Church.

Mourning periods

Catholics have no prescribed mourning period. However, some families may decide to hold a memorial service up to 6 months after the funeral.

Eastern Orthodox Funeral traditions

Beliefs around death

Members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, also known as the Orthodox Catholic Church, believe in God and the eternal life but have a different view of Heaven compared to other Christian faiths. They believe that heaven is more of an idea, so if you love God, his presence in the afterlife will be heavenly. For those who don’t love God, his presence will be hellish.

Cremation and embalming

Embalming of the body is acceptable under the Eastern Orthodox faith. Cremation is strictly not allowed. If the deceased has been cremated, they may not be permitted a religious funeral.

Before the funeral

Holding a wake before the funeral is widely practised amongst Orthodox Catholics. Modern wakes can last a day while more traditional wakes can last up to three days.

At the funeral

The funeral will normally start with the casket being transported from the wake to the place of the service. It’s common for the priest to lead the mourners on this while reciting a traditional Hymn – the Trisagion Hymn.
Upon entering the church, mourners will receive a candle. This should be kept lit throughout the service. There will be prayer, scripture readings, Orthodox funeral rites and sometimes holy communion. Mourners are expected to stand throughout the service unless they have difficulty doing so.
Mourners are also encouraged to approach the casket after the service to say their final goodbyes. Members of the Eastern Orthodox faith may also choose to kiss an icon or a cross placed at the head of the casket, but you should not feel obliged to do so.

At the burial service

The casket is closed and taken to the place of burial where a short graveside service is held. Family and friends will throw dirt, sand or flowers into the grave. Mourners will also normally offer their condolences to the bereaved at this time.

After the funeral

Family and friends will often gather for a reception known as a Makaria (or ‘Mercy Meal’) where mourners can spend time with one another and remember their loved one.
This will commonly take place at the home of a family member, a private venue or in a church hall.

What to wear

Modest clothing that does not reveal your arms or legs should be worn. In most cases, a black or dark-coloured suit and tie for men or a smart black dress or suit for women are appropriate, unless the bereaved have informed you otherwise.

Mourning periods

Orthodox Catholics have a 40-day mourning period in which they avoid social gatherings and traditionally only wear black clothing.
The bereaved will usually not go to work for a week after the funeral and celebrate memorials of their loved one’s death.

Hindu Funeral Traditions

Beliefs around death

Hindus believe that when they die, their soul is reincarnated into a different body or physical form. What form will depend on how they lived their previous life, otherwise known as karma. Their soul can leave the reincarnation cycle if the person reaches a transcendent state of salvation, known as moksha, and be absorbed into the Brahman, the life force of the universe.
Although this view is widely recognised amongst Hindus, it is accepted that this belief may differ slightly according to the type of Hinduism being practised.

Cremation and embalming

According to Hindu custom, the body is to be cremated within 24 hours of death. This means embalming is rare and often unnecessary.

Before the funeral

A viewing of the Hindu’s body after death is not common because of their cremation customs. If a viewing does occur, it’s usually brief and with the body of the deceased displayed in a simple casket.
Hindu funeral prayers, hymns and mantras are also usually chanted by the family and friends around the casket as part of the Hindu funeral rites. And, guests are also expected to view the body, which should be done quietly and respectfully, without touching the body.

At the funeral

As cremation forms part of the funeral, the casket is carried to the crematorium feet first while mourners recite prayers. The bereaved will then circle their loved one in prayer and observe the cremation. After the cremation is complete, mourners will then normally go home.
Non-Hindu mourners are generally welcome to take part in the rituals if they wish but there is no pressure to participate if this compromises your own beliefs.

After the funeral

Traditionally, the ashes of the deceased are immersed in the Ganges River one day after the funeral. While some families choose to repatriate the ashes of their loved ones to India for this to happen, this is often not practical or affordable, so many other rivers around the world have become acceptable substitutes.

What to wear

Mourners at a Hindu funeral should wear white, casual clothing. Black and formal is not considered appropriate.

Gifts and flowers

Flowers are a common gift at a Hindu funeral. If you wish to send flowers, they should be sent to the family or the funeral director before the funeral.
Food is not considered an appropriate gift to bring.

Mourning periods

Typically, the bereaved will mourn for 13 days. Visitors are welcome during this time.

Lutheran Funeral Traditions

Beliefs around death

Lutherans believe that life after death is a new beginning and the start of a life everlasting with God in heaven.

Cremation and embalming

Embalming can be chosen after death, especially if there will be a viewing before the funeral.
Cremation is also acceptable in the Lutheran faith.

Before the funeral

A viewing will sometimes be held before the funeral service at either a funeral home or a home of the bereaved.

At the funeral

A Lutheran funeral will usually last around 30 minutes and include hymns, scripture readings, gospel readings led by a pastor and a sermon which makes references to the life of the deceased. If the family wishes, eulogies from close friends and family may also be delivered.
Christians are expected to participate in the service. However, non-Christians should not feel pressured to kneel, sing or pray along with them. Holy Communion is also offered and can be taken by all mourners, not just those of the Christian faith.
The service can be closed or open casket, or with an urn containing the loved one’s ashes if the body has been cremated prior to the service. If you arrive late to the service, be careful not to enter during a prayer, and find a seat quietly at the back.

After the funeral

It’s normal to gather together after the funeral at a reception or a luncheon and reflect on the life of the deceased.
If any mourners have other eulogies or tributes they wish to share, this is a better time to share them.

What to wear

Dark and sombre traditional clothing should be worn to a Lutheran funeral. This normally includes a black or a dark-coloured suit and tie for men and smart black dress or suit for women.

Gifts and flowers

Flowers and gifts of food for the reception or for the bereaved are most welcome and often very comforting during this time of loss.

Mourning periods

There is no prescribed mourning periods or memorial events for Lutherans.

Presbyterian / Uniting Funeral Traditions

Beliefs around death

Presbyterians believe that after death they will spend eternal life in Heaven or in Hell, depending on how they lived their life and their relationship with God.

Cremation and embalming

While cremation is allowed in the Presbyterians faith, followers prefer to inter their bodies intact through burial.
If a viewing will be held, the body of the deceased will usually need to be embalmed.

Before the funeral

The body is rarely viewed before the funeral, however, if the family wishes to do so, a visitation may occur at the funeral home before the service.

At the funeral

A Presbyterian funeral will usually take place a few days after death with the location depending on the type of service to be held. If a traditional service is to be held, this will take place in a church with the body in a casket or ashes in an urn.
Sometimes, the family of the deceased will choose to have a graveside funeral which will be held at the gravesite. The funeral and the interment will take place at the same time. If the body is not able to be present, a memorial service will normally be held at a church.
Like with Lutheran services, a pastor will lead the mourners in hymns and prayers, however, eulogies are not delivered in a Presbyterian service. Eulogies may, however, be given before the funeral if a gathering is to be held, or at a reception.

After the funeral

A reception is sometimes held for friends and family of the deceased to gather and share food and drink and reflect on the life of their loved one.

What to wear

Dark and sombre clothing should be worn to a Presbyterian funeral. This normally includes a traditional black or dark-coloured suit and tie for men and either a smart black dress or suit for women.

Gifts and flowers

While sending flowers or gifts to the family is appropriate, some families may request donations to a charity supported by the deceased in lieu of other forms of gift-giving.

Mourning periods

Members of the Uniting and Presbyterian faith have no prescribed mourning periods.

The Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) Funeral Traditions

Beliefs around death

Mormons believe that after death their soul is separated from the body, judged and sent to a spiritual prison or to a spiritual paradise to await Christ’s return to earth on judgment day. With Christ’s return, they will be resurrected and reunited with their families again.

Cremation and embalming

While cremation is allowed, it is not encouraged in the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Mormons prefer to inter their body’s intact.
Embalming is accepted if they are to be buried in Temple clothes.

Before the funeral

Before attending a Mormon funeral, you should first check if guests outside of the Mormon church are able to attend. If the Funeral is to be held in a Temple, then only baptised Mormons can attend.

At the funeral

The service will usually be held within one week of death and last between 60-90 minutes. The funeral can take place in a temple, church, funeral home or at a graveside, and will usually include a brief viewing of the body before the service. The bishop directing the service will deliver a sermon and lead the guests in songs, hymns and prayers. Non-Mormon members can fully participate in the service.
The service itself will generally be serious, but yet also a celebratory event because of their belief that they will be reunited with their loved ones again. Sometimes a private viewing for the family will be held after the service and before the burial so the bereaved can be alone with their loved one, one last time.

Attending the Burial

It’s customary to attend the burial after completion of the funeral.

After the funeral

A reception will usually be held for the family and close friends, however, sometimes the larger community may be invited as well.

What to wear

Dark, modest and subdued clothing should be worn to a Mormon funeral. This normally includes a suit and tie for men and either a smart black dress or suit for women.
It’s very important to make sure that you are not wearing any crosses, not even on jewellery, as Mormons take offence to crosses.

Mourning periods

Members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints have no prescribed mourning periods.

Want to learn more about general funeral etiquette?

Further advice and information about common funeral etiquette can be found in our Funeral Etiquette Guide

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