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 Estonian funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Armenian funeral traditions and Nigerian funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
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Preparation of the Body
When someone passes away, their family members wash and place the body on a bier. Then, they close the deceased’s eyes and mouth to prevent any misfortunes from happening to them. They also avoid removing objects from the house while the body is inside to prevent misfortunes. While the body is at home, someone needs to watch over and protect the deceased. When it’s time to transport the body, they carry the body outside feet first.
Traditionally, people chose their own burial clothes before death, but this isn’t as common nowadays. Those dressing the deceased decide and typically give them comfortable shoes, a hat, and a scarf for their afterlife journey. They avoid clothing with knots because they believe these tie the deceased’s spirit down and prevent them from reaching the afterlife. If the deceased doesn’t like their clothes, they believe the deceased’s spirit will haunt their family’s dreams.
Religion doesn’t play a major factor in Estonian funeral traditions, as more than half of the population identifies as non-religious. And for those who are religious, only 14% of them say religion is an important part of their life. Rather, Estonians place an emphasis on the importance of family and cultural traditions. Through their funeral customs, they want to honor the deceased and help them on their afterlife journey.
They may drive fast and take winding roads to the cemetery, so the deceased’s spirit can’t follow and haunt them. Family members don’t help dig the grave. They can place coins in the casket but need to make sure no tears fall inside the casket. If they do, they believe that death may come for them too.
After the burial, there is a feast at the cemetery with pastries and bread. They also set some food aside for the deceased by their headstone. If there are leftovers, they leave them there rather than bringing them home to avoid bringing death into their home. Later that day, everyone gathers at the deceased’s home for a post-funeral meal typically of roast pork and cabbage rolls.