Skip to Content

What is death ceremony called in English?

Death ceremonies, also known as funeral rites, are an important part of most cultures. They allow family and friends to mourn the loss of a loved one, say goodbye, and start the healing process. The rituals and traditions vary greatly between different religions, ethnic groups, and geographic regions. In English speaking countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, there are many common elements, but the specifics often depend on the family’s culture and religious beliefs.

Common Death Ceremonies and Rituals

Here are some of the most common rituals and ceremonies associated with death in English speaking countries:

Wake or Viewing

The wake, also called a viewing or visitation, usually takes place 1-2 days before the funeral. The body is prepared and placed in an open casket so people can pay their respects. There may be prayers said and friends and family will visit to offer condolences.

Funeral Service

This is a ceremony officiated by clergy or an officiant, often held at a church, funeral home, or graveside. It involves prayers, readings, eulogies honoring the deceased, and rituals according to the religion. At the end, the casket is transported to the burial site.


Following the funeral service, the body is buried underground in a grave or tomb. The casket is lowered and family may throw flowers or dirt into the grave. Religious rituals are performed and final words said before the grave is filled and covered over.


With cremation, the body is burned at high temperatures until only bone fragments remain. The cremated remains are collected in an urn. At the funeral service, the urn is often present at the altar. The remains may then be buried, placed in a columbarium niche, or taken home by family.

Memorial Service

If no funeral is held, there may be a memorial service afterwards to eulogize the deceased. An urn or other memorial items may be present. This allows friends and community to gather long after death.

Funeral Reception

After the funeral, it is common to hold a reception or wake. Food and drinks are served buffet-style while people mingle, share stories of the deceased, view photos, and support the grieving family.

Online Memorials

Websites like memorial pages on Facebook or obituary sites allow friends and family to post memories, condolences, photos, and videos online so anyone can share in mourning the loss.

Death Ceremonies by Religion

Religious beliefs have a strong influence on death rituals. Here are some key ceremonies according to faith:

Christian Funerals

Most involve an open casket wake and funeral service at a church officiated by clergy. Eulogies, scripture readings, and hymns play a role. Catholics have a vigil prayer service the night before the funeral. The casket is draped in a white pall to represent the white garment given at Baptism. Many are buried in consecrated ground.

Jewish Funerals

Jews have a funeral as soon as possible, often within 24 hours. An open casket is uncommon because embalming is discouraged. The service involves quick burial and a week of mourning called shiva. Cremation is discouraged. The body is wrapped in a shroud and buried in a plain wooden box.

Hindu Funerals

Hindus often cremate the body within a day. The ashes are collected and later scattered at a sacred body of water. A funeral pyre may be built for an open-air cremation. White is worn as a sign of mourning. Prayers are said to help the soul pass to the next life.

Buddhist Funerals

Buddhists also prefer cremation and believe the spirit is reincarnated into a new life. Funeral prayers and chants are performed at the temple. The urn may be kept at home. In some branches of Buddhism, bodies are left to decay naturally in the open air.

Muslim Funerals

Islamic law states burial should occur as soon as possible, unless the deceased had an infectious disease. Autopsies are often avoided. The body is wrapped in a plain cloth and buried facing Mecca. Cremation is forbidden, as is displaying the body. Modest gravesites are preferred.

Sikh Funerals

Sikhs engage in cremation, believing the soul leaves the body as soon as death occurs. Ashes are later scattered in running water. Mourning lasts several weeks, with scripture readings and hymns taking place nightly. The coffin is draped in cloth called kafan.

Secular/Non-Religious Funerals

These funerals often have a simple, dignified ceremony led by an officiant without religious components. The focus is on celebrating the deceased’s life, with eulogies, music, poetry readings, or other personal elements. The body may be cremated or buried.

Key Elements of Death Ceremonies

While customs vary widely, most funeral rituals share some common features and purposes:

Paying Respects to the Deceased

Funerals allow loved ones to say goodbye and honor the memory of the deceased. Viewings give people a chance to see the body one last time. Flowers, photos, and important possessions may decorate the casket or funeral area.

Offering Support to Family

Funerals bring together friends and community to wrap arms around a grieving family. Kind words, hugs, stories, food, and even laughter can help the healing process.

Facilitating Grief

The rituals and shared tears help mourners accept loss and begin to move forward. Eulogies and services formally recognize someone’s passing. Burying or cremating the body provides closure.

Affirming Beliefs

Religious funerals reinforce views of the afterlife and the meaning of death. Scripture, hymns, and rituals affirm faith and values. This provides comfort regarding the destiny of the deceased’s soul.

Honoring the Deceased

Words, songs, clergy presence, flowers, caskets, urns, and burial sites are chosen to recognize an individual’s life and memory. Photos, possessions, stories, and eulogies pay tribute to who they were.

Inciting Social Continuity

Funerals bring together the living and reaffirm shared traditions and bonds. Gathering for rituals upholds social order and identity. Performing expected mourning behaviors unifies groups.

Common Funeral Traditions Around the World

Looking beyond English speaking countries, death ceremonies take wildly diverse forms across the globe. Here are a few interesting examples:

Sky Burials in Tibet

In Tibetan Buddhism, the body is considered an empty vessel after death. It is chopped and offered to vultures in an outdoor “sky burial.” This returns the body to nature and prevents attachment to physical remains.

Jazz Funerals in New Orleans

These festive parades feature brass bands playing somber dirges on the way to burial, then transitioning to upbeat jazz celebrating the deceased’s life on the return route.

Hanging Coffins in Sagada, Philippines

Here, coffins are nailed to cliff sides or suspended from peaks. Locals believe this elevates the deceased closer to ancestral spirits and protects villages from flooding. The carved coffins may hang for generations.

Totem Poles as Memorials in North America

Pacific Northwest tribes like the Haida erected towering totem poles honoring deceased ancestors and telling their stories. These were not gravesites but memorials, often raised at ceremonial potlatches.

Ash Coverings in Papua New Guinea

Tribes like the Dani Tribe coat their mummified dead in ashes annually. This honors the dead and helps families grieve over many years as bodies slowly decompose back into the earth.

Famadihana Dancing in Madagascar

Every few years, crypts are opened so the dead can be removed, wrapped in fresh shrouds, and danced with in a lively celebration. The Malagasy then return their ancestors’ bones before reburying them.

Modern Trends Changing Death Ceremonies

Death customs always evolve with the times. Some trends reshaping modern funeral rites include:

Cremation on the Rise

More families are opting for cremation over traditional casket burials, drawn to its simplicity and cost savings. The cremation rate in the U.S. is predicted to reach nearly 80% by 2040.


Instead of stoic, traditional funerals, many want unique services crafted around an individual’s personality with their favorite music, foods, possessions, and stories.

Green Burials

Eco-friendly “natural burials” are growing, where the body decomposes in biodegradable shrouds or plain caskets, returning to nature while avoiding chemicals, vaults, and non-biodegradable coffin materials.

Online Memorials

Websites like memorial Facebook pages, obituaries updated in real-time, and apps gathering photos and memories make it easy to honor the dead virtually anywhere.

Scattering over Burial

As cremation rises, families are increasingly scattering ashes in personally significant spots instead of burying urns in traditional plots. This makes permanent grave upkeep unnecessary.

Decline of Religion

With more secularism, religious funeral elements are fading while non-denominational “celebrations of life” are increasing. Spirituality remains, but organized religion’s role is waning.

Green Funerals

Eco-friendly “natural burials” are growing, where the body decomposes in biodegradable shrouds or plain caskets, returning to nature while avoiding chemicals, vaults, and non-biodegradable coffin materials.

DIY Funerals

Some choose home funerals without embalming, building their own caskets, transporting remains themselves, and even conducting customized services and burials. This hands-on role can facilitate closure.

Virtual Attendance

When distance or pandemics interfere, streaming funeral services online makes it easier for anyone to virtually attend and watch recordings later. This expands accessibility and comfort.

Key Takeaways

– Death ceremonies go by many names like funerals, burials, cremations, or memorial services. Their purpose is to honor the deceased, comfort the living, and uphold social bonds.

– Common rituals in English speaking countries include wakes, visitations, funeral services, burials, cremations, memorial services, receptions, and online memorial pages.

– Religious faith significantly shapes funeral practices. Christians prefer burial, Jews have shivas, Hindus cremate, and Muslims forbid cremation. Non-religious ceremonies are increasing.

– While local traditions vary worldwide, common elements include paying respects, supporting mourners, facilitating grief, affirming beliefs, honoring the deceased, and upholding continuity.

– Trends like cremation, personalization, green burials, online memorials, scattering ashes, secular services, DIY funerals, and virtual attendance are reshaping modern death ceremonies.


Death ceremonies provide closure and continuity when a life ends. They remind us of shared values and beliefs that transcend our finite time on earth. While fashions change, their core purpose remains—for the living to process loss and honor the dead, however diverse the exact rituals may be. With creativity and meaning, they can meet both our innermost spiritual needs and shifting modern sensibilities.