Here in 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 Icelandic funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Somali funeral traditions and Filipino funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
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Iceland’s population is only about 332,000 people. Almost 70% of the population is Christian and a member of the Church of Iceland, an Evangelic Lutheran Church. An Icelandic funeral usually follows Christian traditions and is held in a church.
Icelandic people don’t practice embalming, so they only do small makeup and cosmetic procedures to prepare the deceased. For this reason, Iceland isn’t the best place to die for foreigners visiting the country. You need to get special authorization for preserving a body.
Morgunbladid, meaning “The Morning Paper,” is a nationwide Iceland newspaper where obituaries are published. Oftentimes, family and friends write the obituaries for the deceased. In this case, someone may have multiple obituaries published about them.
Icelandic Funeral Service
An Icelandic funeral takes place 5 days to 2 weeks after the death and everyone wears black or dark-colored clothes. A kistulagninar, small wake, may be held before the funeral for close family and friends of the deceased.
The funeral service is about a half-hour and pallbearers and close family sit in the front of the church. Usually, only the minister speaks during the ceremony and reads from the Bible and talks about the deceased. A church choir or other musicians usually perform requested memorial songs for the deceased’s family.
Burial or Cremation
Both burial and cremation are practiced in Iceland. If it’s a burial, a hearse takes the coffin to the cemetery. If it’s a Christian funeral, everyone makes the sign of the cross after the coffin is lowered into the gravesite. They also may toss flowers, letters, or other significant items on top of the coffin.
After the funeral, the deceased’s family usually invites funeral attendees to their house or another location for a post-funeral reception. Here is typically where family and friends say their own personal speeches to honor the deceased. They also may share photos of the deceased or just talk and comfort each other. There’s also usually snacks and beverages served, like coffee and cake.