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What is the day before funeral called?

The day before a funeral is commonly referred to as the “viewing”, “wake”, or “visitation”. This is when family and friends gather at the funeral home or church to view the body and share memories of the deceased before the burial or cremation. The viewing typically takes place 1-2 days before the funeral service.

What is a Viewing?

A viewing, also called a visitation, is when the body of the deceased is displayed in an open casket for people to see and pay final respects. It provides an opportunity for friends and family to see the body one last time and say goodbye. The viewing is held at the funeral home and typically lasts 2-3 hours prior to the funeral service. It may take place the evening before the funeral or the morning of the funeral.

The viewing serves several purposes:

  • Allows friends and family to have closure by seeing the deceased one last time
  • Provides an opportunity to express condolences to the grieving family members
  • Allows friends and family to support each other through the grieving process
  • Gives a chance for any final goodbyes to the deceased
  • Allows closure if the deceased’s remains were badly damaged or not recoverable

The body is prepared by the funeral home to look as natural as possible, as if the person is only sleeping. Cosmetics may be applied, and special padding and straps used to pose the body. The casket is typically open but may be partially closed depending on the condition of the remains.

What Happens at a Viewing?

When attending a viewing, there are common practices and etiquettes to follow:

  • Sign a guest book to record your attendance
  • Express your sympathy to the family with your condolences
  • Approach the casket to pay final respects
  • Spend a quiet moment at the casket to say a prayer or final goodbye
  • Leave your funeral flowers or other condolence gifts at the casket or with the funeral director
  • Talk with family and friends to share memories of the deceased
  • Leave whenever you are ready as viewings do not have a set duration

What you say at the casket depends on your relationship with the deceased. Some common phrases include:

  • “I’m sorry for your loss.”
  • “My condolences to you and your family.”
  • “Your mother was a wonderful woman, I’ll miss her.”
  • “We shared many great memories together over the years.”
  • “My thoughts and prayers are with you.”

You can leave a memento at the casket such as a photo, flower, poem, or handwritten note. Attendees should dress formally in respect of the grieving family. Subdued, dark clothing is customary. Talking loudly or taking photos is considered disrespectful. The mood is typically somber and serious.

What is a Wake?

A wake is very similar to a viewing. It is when family and friends gather around the deceased before a funeral for visitation and remembrance. However, while a viewing focuses solemnly on the casket, a wake has a more social atmosphere with food, drink, and conversation.

Key differences between a wake and viewing include:

Wake Viewing
Typically held at home of deceased or family member Held at funeral home
More informal, conversational, social gathering Solemn atmosphere focused on casket
Food and drinks usually served No refreshments
Family shares stories and memories Quiet goodbye at casket
Can last for days Typically 1-3 hours long
Common in some ethnic and religious traditions More common in recent decades

The term “wake” comes from old English custom of keeping watch over the deceased before burial. Friends would sit with the body to protect it from evil spirits. The name wake came from “awakening” or watching over the dead.

Origins of the Funeral Wake

Wakes originated in ancient times and are linked to different funeral practices:

  • Judaism – Shiva is a week-long mourning period where the family sits shiva by receiving visitors at home
  • Christianity – Early wakes stemmed from sitting vigil by the deceased’s coffin the night before the funeral
  • Ireland – Cailleach, night wakes with singing, drinking, and storytelling
  • African American – Nine Night wakes last for several days after death with food, music, and celebration

The modern wake emerged from these religious and cultural traditions as time to gather before a funeral to remember the deceased.

Key Differences Between a Viewing and Wake

While the viewing and wake both provide a chance to say goodbye and support the family, there are some important distinctions:

Viewing Wake
At a funeral home At family’s home or funeral home
Casket is the focus Social gathering and reconnecting
Paying respects at the casket Sharing memories and celebrating life
Short duration (1-3 hours) Can last for days
More solemn atmosphere Conversational, lighter mood

The main difference comes down to the viewing being structured around the casket and wake being a more social gathering. However, there can be overlap between the two events.

Purpose and Benefits of a Viewing and Wake

Despite their differences, viewings and wakes serve similar purposes:

  • Chance to say goodbye – Seeing the body and casket provides closure.
  • Support for grieving family – Coming together eases the family’s sadness.
  • Shared grief – Being surrounded by others that share in the loss brings comfort.
  • Share memories – Reminiscing about the deceased person’s life is therapeutic.
  • Acknowledge the death – The viewing/wake makes the death seem real.
  • Receive guests – It allows family to receive condolences and sympathy.

While painful, viewing and wake customs help mourners accept the reality of the death, memorialize the deceased, and provide a therapeutic space for collective grief.


In summary, the day before the funeral is known as the viewing or wake. The viewing is focused on the casket itself with solemn goodbyes at the funeral home. The wake is a more social gathering for remembrance, often held at the family’s home over several days. Both provide a meaningful way for family and friends to offer support, share grief, and say farewell to a loved one before laying them to rest.