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 Finnish funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Polish funeral traditions and Bahamian funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
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Traditionally, when someone died, the deceased’s family washed and dressed the body for the wake. Nowadays, the funeral home takes care of the preparation of the body. At the wake, there is food, drinks, storytelling, and sometimes music and singing. Mourners also bring dishes to pass while comforting the grieving family.
Finnish Funeral Service
Finnish funeral services usually are in a church anywhere from one to four weeks after the death. Christianity is the most common Finnish religion so funeral services typically follow Christian traditions. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is the most common with 72% of the population, per Finland’s 2016 statistics.
Like funerals in America and Canada, mourners wear black or dark clothing to a Finnish funeral. During the service, the priest says blessings and prayers for the deceased. If there’s a casket, they lower flowers on it. Afterward, there is a funeral procession with a hearse to the cemetery. The deceased’s immediate family members serve as pallbearers to put the casket into the hearse. During this time, everyone takes off their hats while music plays.
Burial and Cremation
Traditionally, Finnish families buried their dead in wooden boxes. They also kept the body in their home for several days before the burial. But today, casket burial or cremation are both common funeral arrangements.
According to University of Central Oklahoma Professor Marty Ludlum, cremation is more popular than burial in Finland. In an article he wrote for Funeral Business Advisor magazine, he discusses some of the reasons why this is. One of the reasons is that there isn’t a lot of burial space. Another reason is that winter conditions make burials difficult. Not only is it difficult to travel in the winter, it’s also an arduous task to dig the graves.
Also, instead of owning burial space, they’re rented by families for 25 years. After this time is up, families can re-rent the space if they wish. On average, the burial spaces have room for two body burials and 10 cremated urns. Since family members share gravesites, there’s usually one headstone with the family name rather than individual names.
Mourning and Memorialization
After a death, close family members wear black and no fancy jewelry for 40 days to symbolize their mourning. They also may decide to not attend large parties and other social gatherings during this time.
The deceased’s family has memorial feasts six weeks and one year after the death. They also choose specific days to honor and remember the deceased.