Religious Funeral & Cremation Customs Around the World

In the United States, our traditional funerals have remained pretty much the same for over 100 years. A family contacts a funeral director, the body is embalmed, viewing hours established, services held, and finally the body is buried in a cemetery.

This process began changing in the 1960’s with the wider acceptance of cremations. It continues to evolve today with more celebratory and personalized services. While some resist these changes, it can be a bit eye opening to look at some funeral and cremation traditions from around the world.

South Korea : Because land is so valuable in this part of the world, loved one’s remains must be removed after 60 years. This has led to the increased popularity of cremation services. Rather than opt for the ashes to be returned, many will have them compressed into jewelry-like beads.

Philippines : There are a variety of Filipino traditions that would seem strange to us. Depending on beliefs and location, blindfolded bodies may be set in a chair next to the main entrance of a home. In some areas, the dead are buried in hollowed out tree trunks, and in others they are buried under the home’s kitchen.

Tibet : In Tibet, most believe the body should be returned to earth when a person dies. Therefore, bodies are cut into pieces and then placed upon a mountain. Here, they are exposed to the elements and wildlife. This is not a new or rare practice as it has been done this way for thousands of years and more than three-quarters of Tibetans still conduct final services this way.

South Africa : This is an area of the world where a combination of traditions merge. Customs like smearing ashes on a home’s windows, animal sacrifice, and making sure no dirt from the burial ground enter the home are all part of various traditions. More recently, “After Tears Parties” have become popular. These rousing parties include drinking and laughter and are intended to comfort the loved ones family.

Cambodia : Cambodian Buddhists, who believe in reincarnation, will attempt to avoid mourning. Many shave their heads and wear white in the period following a loved-ones death. A traditional Cambodian funeral will take place at home where the body is washed and dressed by family. It is then prayed over by monks for three days. The body will usually be cremated.

India: The Hindu customs, cremation is performed. Before the cremation, beautiful services are held for the deceased. The body is washed and shrouded by family members- oils and spices are applied to the forehead and a garland of flowers is placed around the neck or body. The family will recite hymns and mantras as well. The eldest male relative along with other male relatives will accompany the casket to the crematory. The ashes must be returned to the Ganges River, but with more people living outside of India, other rivers are becoming acceptable places for scattering the ashes.

China: In China, burial and funeral rites depend on age, cause of death, marital status and status in society. Wreaths, gifts and food are placed at the head of the casket as offerings to the deceased. Prayer money or Joss paper is burned as an offering to the deceased for their welfare in the afterlife. The funeral ceremony will typically last for 49 days- with prayers being said every 7 days. The mourning period consists of wearing a piece of colored cloth on the sleeve for 100 days- some families wear this for up to 3 years.

Funerals from around the world can remind us that people grieve in different ways. What may seem odd to some is tradition to others. It should encourage you to pre-plan the funeral that you desire. If you would like to discuss your options, we invite you to contact us at Fares J. Radel Funeral Homes and Crematory. Whether you are considering a traditional American service or something more along the lines of your family heritage, we will do our best to accommodate you.


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