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 Austrian funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Laotian funeral traditions and Mali Dogon people funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
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Austrian Religious Beliefs
Most Austrians identify as Catholics, although the numbers have dropped over the years. The 2001 census found that 73.6% of Austrians were Catholic, but the 2017 census found that 57.9% of Austrians are Catholic. It’s still the most common religion, but it dropped by a little more than 15%. The next most common religion is actually those who don’t identify with a religion, which is 24.4% of the population.
Austrian Funeral Service
Since most Austrians are Catholic, an Austrian funeral typically follows this religion’s traditions. The funeral service is typically at a Catholic church. Everyone wears black or dark-colored clothing and may bring candles as a sign of respect for the deceased.
Burial is still the most common funeral arrangement, although some people choose cremation. For burial, they may choose traditional ground burial or burial in a mausoleum. There also may be a short graveside funeral service before the burial. Afterward, they place flowers by the gravesite. Traditionally, there was a fear of being buried alive, so they attached a cord to the deceased’s hand so they could ring the bell if they were alive.
One of the world’s largest cemeteries is located in Vienna, Austria. The Vienna Central Cemetery first opened on All Saints’ Day in 1874. They decided they needed to build the large cemetery in 1863, but there was some controversy about people of different faiths being buried in the same cemetery. There are many famous people buried there, such as composer Ludwig van Beethoven.
All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day
All Saints’ Day on November 1 and All Souls’ Day on November 2 are days to honor the deceased. Families go to the cemetery and clean and decorate their loved one’s graves with flowers, wreaths, and candles. There also may be a Catholic mass at the cemetery. In the past, braided pastries symbolized grief so women cut off their braids while mourning.
Home of Funeral Museum
Vienna, Austria also is home to the famous Funeral Museum Vienna. The museum has around 1,000 exhibits featuring funeral traditions throughout the country’s history. Some exhibit examples include traditional pallbearer uniforms, elaborate hearses, wreaths, caskets, urns, and even a cigarette pack that was made specifically for funeral directors. The cigarette pack has a saying on it that translates to “smoking protects jobs.”