Funeral Traditions and Customs in the U.S.

Funeral Traditions and Customs in the U.S.

Funerals anywhere in the world can be deeply saddening. In the U.S., certain rituals are followed when a person passes away. However, the extent to which the family will go to organize the funeral depends on the deceased person’s family dynamics.

While some funeral rituals are short, involving just the burial, a blessing, and a luncheon, some families have more elaborate rituals. This is mostly in cases when there is a large family involved and the deceased had many friends and relatives who want to pay their last respects.

Here is a brief overview so that if you are invited to a funeral, you know what is expected of you.

Firstly, be sure to wear black to the occasion, unlike in other countries, where white is the color of mourning. Dress formally for the occasion, with minimal accessories with your outfit.

If you cannot make it to the memorial service of the funeral, be sure to send a note, along with a bouquet or a meal. Since many Americans live far away from each other, this custom enables them to send their condolences.

An elaborate funeral ritual in the U.S. comprises three broad stages – the visitation, the memorial service, and the burial.


This usually takes place an evening or two before the actual funeral. If the visitation is open-casket, this allows the friends and family to view the deceased for the last time.

Families in the U.S. are scattered, with many children moving out as soon as they hit adulthood and graduate. Hence, several people might not have had the chance to see the deceased in a long while. This allows them to say a final goodbye.

If the visitation is an open-casket ceremony, you may approach the coffin and look at the deceased person if you are comfortable doing so. The body is embalmed at the funeral home and dressed for the occasion.

A closed-casket ceremony is held if the person died in an accident, if the body was damaged, or sometimes just due to personal wishes. In that case, numerous photos from the deceased’s life are arranged beside the closed coffin.

The Memorial Service

The memorial service might be a continuation of the visitation, or it could be held at a larger venue because more people are expected. The memorial service could be held at the funeral home, a church, or a chapel. The latter two are the case with more religious families.

The families usually publish an obituary in the local newspaper, announcing the death and including the date, time, and venue of the memorial service and funeral.

At the memorial service, there are readings from the Bible, and the priest will talk about the transient nature of the soul. Those gathered are consoled by others.

The friends and family read eulogies to the deceased, commemorating their life and works. People often talk about how the person had a positive impact on the lives of the people they touched and about their achievements during their lifetime.

However, the eulogy is often skipped for those who are very orthodox Roman Catholics or Anglicans. They believe that only the priest should preside over the entire service, and anyone else speaking on the occasion is prohibited.

At the end of the memorial service, the family can take a final look at the deceased person to say their final goodbyes. In the end, the coffin is closed shut, and it is prepared to be taken to the cemetery. If the deceased person has opted for cremation instead of burial, there is not usually a separate burial service.

The Burial

On the day of the funeral, a small procession goes to the burial ground or cemetery. The procession starts from the funeral home or church where the memorial service took place.

The procession includes a hearse, and friends and family arrive separately.

In more traditional families, the casket is carried by pallbearers. They are the deceased’s sons, other male family members, or close friends. It is a mark of respect and a symbol that the family has accompanied the deceased right until the end.

In a religious service, the priest reads from the Bible and blesses the soul of the deceased. Sometimes, the gathered friends and family will say some last words in memory of the person. The mood is somber. The priest will talk about the immortal nature of the soul and how the person will live on in the memories of the people he had left behind.

The casket is lowered in the ground, at a spot chosen by the family. There is a tradition where the family members all take a handful of soil and spread it on the coffin as a mark of a final goodbye. The professionals take over from here. They will cover the ground with soil. If the family chooses to, a tomb would be created on the spot at a later date.

After the burial is over, the friends and family gather at the deceased’s house or another venue to share a meal. Here, happy or funny anecdotes about the deceased are often shared. If you knew the person well, you could join in.

It is very common in the U.S. to serve wine on almost any occasion, and a funeral luncheon or dinner is no exception. Usually, the deceased’s favorite wines are served in these luncheons, and a toast will be raised to the person. This lightens the mood and signifies the living can move on. If you do not drink, you can politely refuse.

You will find that some Americans move on very quickly from death. They do not let a deceased person’s memory hold them back. Rather, they choose to keep their memories alive through work and take comfort from the fact that the deceased person is in a happier place. Unlike in other countries, where some communities have final funeral rituals even twelve, thirteen or fourteen days after cremation, the formal or ritual funeral services in the U.S. end with the burial and the luncheon. However, different people deal with death in different ways. The end of the ritual does not always mean that family and friends are immediately ready to move on.

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