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 French funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Czech funeral traditions and Welsh funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
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As of 2016, 51.1% of France’s population identifies as Christian, with Catholicism being the most common. For this reason, a French funeral typically includes a Catholic funeral service and follows Catholic rituals and beliefs regarding the afterlife. However, some families may have a secular funeral service, as 39.6% of the population identifies with no religion.
Although it’s not as common anymore in big cities, some small towns still do this tradition. When someone passes away, their family pins a journal decorated with black cloth on their door. Then family, friends, community members, and even strangers write messages inside it. They can convey their condolences for their loss, express their grief, offer support, and share memories with the deceased.
The journal also is at the funeral ceremony, so guests can write inside it. But, the tradition of keeping it on the door gives the family privacy to grieve, and it allows those who couldn’t attend the funeral a chance to share their sympathy. Then, the family has a journal of memories and kind messages to cherish forever. It’s a unique way to help them grieve and hear other people’s memories with their deceased loved one.
Traditional Death Superstitions
Traditionally, some parts of France had several death superstitions. When someone passed away, they removed any open water sources, because the deceased’s soul could fall and drown in it. They also believed that honey connected the soul with other souls of the departed. So, they left an open jar of honey by the body to attract flies, which they believed held the souls of the deceased.
French Funeral Service Today
A French funeral service is typically a large event that the whole community attends. For a Catholic funeral service, there’s music, prayers, and readings. A close family member of the deceased also reads a eulogy.
Burial is still the most common funeral arrangement, but some people choose cremation. For burials, it’s typically in-ground and mourners throw dirt onto the casket. For cremation, people may choose an urn or ash scattering location. Some people also choose a cremation niche for the urn.