5 Ways Different Cultures Honor & Mourn The Deceased

Here in the United States, the process of mourning following a death typically involves sending a sympathy gift and attending a funeral. People often bring food and send flowers or donations to charities supporting research for medical conditions that led to the passing of the individual.

Cultures all over the world grieve a loss and honor lost loved ones in a number of different ways, however. In this post, we're going to look at 5 ways different cultures honor and mourn the deceased following a loss. 

1. Dia De Los Muertos, Mexico  

Dia de los Muertos (or "Day of the Dead") is celebrated in Latin America, particularly in Mexico over a two-day period to reunite the living and the dead. And despite a common misconception that it's a "Mexican Halloween," the two don't have almost nothing in common. 

Dia de los Muertos is all about honoring and celebrating lost loved ones. There are beautiful festivals, gorgeous makeup and costumes, painted skulls, and offerings of things like sweet bread, sugar skulls, and drinks with the thought that you'd work up an appetite traveling between our world and the spirit world. Orange marigolds are a central part of decor, as they're thought to help guide spirits. 

This holiday celebrates both life and death, which is something that you won't find in many other cultures.  

2. Shiva, Jewish Culture 

Shiva, which is the mourning process in Jewish culture, is the seven-day period following a burial in which a family stays at home and takes time to grieve. 

Immediately following a burial and at the beginning of Shiva, there is often a pitcher of water at the door for people to wash their hands to symbolically wash away impurities of death. 

For seven days (excluding the Sabbath), the family will remain home while continually burning a candle in honor of the deceased and keeping all of their mirrors covered to discourage the focus on their own appearance. Mourners also engage in the practice of "keriah," which involves wearing a torn black ribbon on their clothing to symbolize the tear in their heart. 

During this period, different prayers may also be recited, and mourners may sit on chairs or stools low to the ground to symbolize their mourning. 

3. Tea Ceremonies at Funerals, Buddhist Culture 

Tea plays an important role in some Asian cultures, and Buddhist followers often incorporate it into their funeral ceremonies.

In some cases, the chief mourner will distribute packages of tea to funeral attendees. 

Ochatou is the practice of placing tea at a Buddhist alter at the temple where a funeral is held. In some places, tea leaves are even placed inside the coffin partially due to its expected disinfectant properties. 

The Tokushima practice, on the other hand, distributes tea served in a small cup, called a "Chatouoke." 

Tea is so important during these ceremonies, as it holds a meaning of passing between the two worlds, including the worlds between life and death. 

4. Burning of Joss Paper, China 

Chinese funeral and memorial traditions vary heavily depending on where exactly the deceased lived, but one tradition that is relatively widespread is the burning of joss paper.

During the funeral, the family of the deceased will burn joss paper (which is essentially "spirit paper") to ensure that their loved one has a safe journey to the next world. Miniature items like small model houses and cars (which may be related to the deceased person's interests) and fake paper money are also burned so that they can give the deceased everything they need when they enter into the next life. 

5. Famadihana, Madagascar  

In Madagascar, Famadihana is a sacred ritual of the Merina tribe that is sometimes referred to as "dancing with the dead" or "turning of the bones." It occurs every five to seven years on average. 

During this ritual, a family will remove a number of their deceased relatives from their place of rest in a crypt. They'll remove the burial shrouds from the corpses and wrap them in fresh shrouds, which are often silk. 

There's then a celebration with drinking, talking, and even dancing with the bodies of their ancestors. The bodies are then returned to the tomb and placed upside down before the sun sets. 

Final Thoughts   

If these cultural traditions show us anything, it's that there's no one right way to grieve or celebrate a life that has passed. Finding what works for you and your family—even if it's outside of your normal— can bring you comfort in a time when you need it most. 

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