Funeral Traditions in Different Cultures

Coping with grief is a little bit easier for the bereaved when their community surrounds them. You’ll find that every culture on Earth has its way of honoring the dead. Funeral traditions around the world are as diverse as humans. Some have lasted for centuries and are still practiced today, while others are newer traditions shaped by the modern world.

There’s a wide variety of traditions worldwide, reflecting all the values and beliefs you can find in different countries. Some practices may surprise us and even weird us out. Below we’ve compiled some funeral traditions from different cultures to put things in perspective.

New Orleans Jazz Funeral

This funeral procession is unique to New Orleans and Cajun culture, where European and African traditions meet. Jazz funerals usually begin at church or a funeral home, leading the way to the cemetery. The family and friends of the person who passed are joined by a brass band that plays music. The music starts sad and somber but eventually becomes more lively to celebrate the life of the deceased. While most jazz funerals are for musicians, anyone can request one. Any passersby are encouraged to join in and celebrate as long as they’re respectful.

Alaskan Spirit Houses

Eklutna, an Alaska native village, has one of the most exciting and colorful cemeteries in Alaska. In Eklutna’s Russian orthodox cemetery, you’ll find spirit houses, which are the product of a blend of Dena’ina and Russian Orthodox beliefs. Before Russian Orthodox missionaries settled in Eklutna, it was customary for the Dena’ina to cremate the deceased and place the ashes into baskets near trees or rivers. However, this tradition changed in the early 1800s when the Dena’ina started converting to the Russian Orthodox Church, where burial is the tradition. The Dena’ina started building spirit houses to provide shelter to the deceased’s spirits to respect their new religion and commemorate their culture. According to the church, the deceased’s soul would take 40 days to make their journey into heaven.

Tibetan Sky Burials

In most forms of Buddhism, bodies are cremated or given to animals to embrace the circle of life and provide sustenance to said animals. However, there’s not much wood to cremate bodies in Tibet, so they turn to sky burials. In this ritual, the deceased’s bodies are left outside and cut into pieces for birds or other animals to devour. This burial has two purposes: removing the body’s now-empty vessel and allowing the soul to depart while also giving back to nature and supplying sustenance to animals.

Burial Beads in South Korea

Due to lack of space and the high cost of land for funeral plots in South Korea, cremation is quite common. The idea is to turn the ashes of the person who passed into small beads that look like gems. The beads aren’t turned into necklaces. Instead, some mourners keep them in glass containers to honor a lost loved one. This is an example of how current conditions (a lack of space in a small but densely populated country) directly impact how we remember the dead.

Madagascar Famadihana

In Madagascar, families come together during a festival known as Famadihana, which translates to “the turning of the bones”. The Malagasy people celebrate this event so newer family members can meet their ancestors. According to the Malagasy culture, the spirit of the dead doesn’t depart right after death. During Famadihana, graves are exhumed and the remains are carefully wrapped in special mats. A procession occurs, with family members carrying their loved ones above their heads back to the village or a special place. In this ceremony, there will be plenty of food, live music, and dancing. Families will dance with the bodies of their ancestors in a joyful commemoration of the people they love.