Funeral traditions vary from family to family and the practice of laying your dead relatives to rest has been around for thousands of years. Many of the funeral traditions your family may practice today were practiced many years ago. The practice and tradition of putting flowers on a grave date back all the way to the Ancient Greek civilization. But there are a few, less common, funeral traditions that many practiced in the past, but seem to have fallen out of tradition since. Learning more about the lives of your ancestors and how they handled important life events will help you better understand and eventually write your family history. Also, if you find a large purchase or sale of gloves, it could just mean that your ancestor was hosting a funeral! Read below for 6 funeral traditions that your ancestors may have practiced.
1. Funeral Gloves
The early settlers of New England had a tradition of giving out gloves to funeral attendees. The wealthier families would give out a large quantity of gloves when a member of their family died, while the poorer families would give out funeral gloves to selected guests based on what they could afford to give. The gloves were worn both at the funeral and gravesite.
2. Safety Coffins
In the 18th and 19th centuries, your ancestor may have been buried in what's known as a safety coffin. A safety coffin is a coffin designed to prevent premature burials, something people were terrified of, understandably. Some safety coffins had feeding tubes so food could be sent down to someone if they were thought to be alive and also so that gravesite workers could peek down to verify if the person was deceased. However most safety coffins consisted of a string that led from inside the coffin to a bell above ground by the gravestone, so that the person inside the coffin could ring the bell and alert someone's attention if they were mistakenly buried alive.
3. Funeral Rosemary and Evergreen
Although flowers are most commonly placed around the graves and tombstones of loved ones, there was a period in early modern Britain where herbs and strongly scented plants were placed on the coffins during burials to help mask the smell of the body. Rosemary, and coniferous plants were more commonly used due to their stronger aroma.
4. Solemn and Silent
As funerals are a very solemn event, the early settlers of New England did not participate in prayer, song, or oral stories about their loved ones. Instead, the funerals were often held in complete silence from beginning to end, without mention of religion, prayers, or eulogies. Instead, the attendees would just follow the coffin in silence. Instead of stating their information out loud, the attendees would write out their memories and memorials and they were later published, according to the New England Historical Society.
Starting in Ancient Greece all the way through early Britain and other countries, coins were placed over the dead's eyes not only to keep the eyes closed, but as a way to provide payment based on traditions of the soul or spirit traveling to the afterlife.
6. Inhaling the last breath
Now, while it may be customary in the United States and other countries to visit your family members who may be dying, it was a tradition in ancient Rome for the eldest son or male of the household to visit the person's death bed and attempt to inhale that person's last remaining breaths before moving to the afterlife.
Does your family practice any of these funeral traditions?