One thing that everyone in the entire world has in common is that one day, everyone will pass away. Our ways of life may be drastically different, but we all must face the challenges of grief and loss one day or another. We are also living in the most interconnected, globalized time in history. More and more people around the world are crossing political and cultural boundaries to socialize and work with people of all backgrounds. That is why we, at Distinctive Life, think it is important to understand the mourning customs from all different faiths. Chances are that one day, you will have to offer condolences to someone outside your own religious community. That is why we have put together this easy and informative guide for the perfect sympathy gift for the world’s most popular religions.
A traditional Protestant funeral will have a visitation or wake prior to burial. During the wake, mourners can say goodbye to the loved one who has passed away and spend some time with family and friends before the funeral. What should you bring? According to Christian scripture, when the Virgin Mary was buried, her tomb was covered in white lillies, so these flower have become the go-to flower arrangement for wakes. Giving a bouquet of lilies with a heartfelt card is a beautiful and meaningful sympathy gift for any Protestant funeral service.
Catholic funerals are often called “funeral mass” or “requiem mass.” This type of mass is dedicated to the loved one who has passed away, so that they can reach heaven quickly and safely. What should you bring? Catholics have a tradition of giving the mourning family a “mass card.” Mass cards are a special type of greeting card that lets the family know that your will be praying in honor of the deceased during mass. The cards offer comforting prayers and can be purchased online or at your local Catholic church.
After the loss of a friend or family member, Jews have a seven day mourning period called “shiva.” During shiva, the mourning family is not allowed to cook for themselves. Instead, they must rely on friends and neighbors to provide their meals. What should you bring? In the first testament, Jacob ate lentil soup while he was mourning the loss of his father Isaac. This inspired the modern religious custom of eating lentils during shiva. A pot of homemade traditional lentil stew, or even a modern interpretation like lentil chili, is a thoughtful way to feed hungry friends during an emotionally difficult time.
Like Judaism, Islam has a 3 day mourning period where mourners do not cook for themselves and are provided meals by their friends and family. This period is longer for widows, who instead of 3 days, must mourn the loss of their husband for 4 months. What should I bring? Halvah is an traditional Middle Eastern baked dessert. Halvah look similar to brownies, but is made with honey, vanilla, nuts and tahini. This easy dish is a sweet way to show your friends and family that you care.
Traditionally, Hindu funerals involve a cremation, a religious home ceremony, and 10 days where friends and family mourn together. On the 10th day, there is a special home ceremony which releases the departed soul into heaven. What should I bring? It is customary to bring fruit during this mourning period as a Prasad, or food offering. Prasads are offered to deities during Puja, or ceremonial prayer, and then eaten after the service. A fruit basket, or some other type of sweet, is a excellent sympathy gift for Hindu mourners.
Although Buddhist funeral traditions vary throughout different countries, Buddhist funerals are typically modest and quiet. Since Buddhist funerals are kept very simple, gifts of food or flowers are not appropriate sympathy gifts. What should you bring? Most Buddhist will specify a charity where mourners can donate in lieu of food or flowers. By donating in memory of the deceased love one, mourners can honor their life, legacy and spirituality.
Secular funerals are becoming more and more popular, especially in the United States, where people are becoming less and less religious. Secular funerals will often have a memorial service, instead of a religious ceremony, and have friends or family speak, instead of a priest. What should you bring? A gift card for a spa service, like a massage or manicure, is a great way to cheer up a friend during mourning. Give the gift of relaxation to help a friend relieve the stress of funeral planning and playing host.
Want to learn more about the different funeral traditions of the world? Let us know in the comments which religions you are curious about and we will make sure to include them in our next blog post!