Here is America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Italian funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Samoan funeral traditions and ancient Egyptian funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
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Prior to Funeral Service
If you knew the deceased and their family well, it’s customary to visit the family before the service to pay your respects and provide support. Typically, guests bring gifts of flowers or food such as casseroles, fruit, desserts, or wine for the grieving family. The family may share the food with their guests or save any leftovers.
Traditionally, funeral posters of the deceased were created to invite the whole town to the funeral service. The poster was like an obituary, as it told details about the deceased’s death and information about the funeral service.
Italian funeral services are more about mourning the dead rather than a celebration of life. Funeral attendants should wear black, and the casket is usually open at the funeral service so family and friends can kiss the deceased’s cheek or forehead as a sign of respect for them.
At 83.3%, Christianity is the most popular religion in Italy. Most Christians in Italy follow the Catholic church, so funeral services usually have a Catholic mass including the last rites, prayer vigil, and funeral liturgy. Family members can say a few words about the deceased or read a Bible verse. Family or friends may be asked to be the pallbearers.
Traditionally, everyone would walk to the gravesite and the casket would be transported by horse-drawn carriage or a hearse. Now, people usually follow the hearse by vehicle instead of walking.
At traditional Italian funerals, wealthy families would hire professional mourners to wail at their loved one’s gravesite, but not so much today. Burials were customary for Italian funerals and still are popular, especially among older generations, but some people may lean toward cremation depending on their personal beliefs. Family and friends can say a few more words about the deceased and throw some dirt on top of the casket.
After the funeral, a reception may be held in the home of the deceased. Guests can bring food and comfort the grieving family while sharing memories they had with the deceased and say goodbye.
An ancient superstition of the Italian culture is the fear the deceased’s soul will want to return to Earth. To prevent this, some families may not speak of the deceased once their mourning period is over. Also, the deceased may be buried with their favorite objects so they don’t want to return to Earth.