A funeral is a ceremony for honoring and celebrating the life of a deceased loved one and typically involves burial or cremation of the body. Funeral customs, beliefs and practices have varied widely among different cultures and religious groups throughout history.
From burial sites to various monuments, prayers and rituals, customs around death fulfill the purpose of honoring and remembering the dead, and also offer support for grieving survivors. In most civilizations, family or friends arrange ritual disposal of their dead with practices developed within spiritual traditions of their culture, usually through either cremation or burial in a tomb, sarcophagus, crypt, or a monumental surface structure such as a mausoleum or pyramid.
Whichever type of grave or tomb was chosen, the importance of the proper burial was paramount in every ancient culture. The rites accompanying burial were often very elaborate and significant.
Burial of the dead in the ground can be traced to 92,000 years ago – the Grave of Qafzeh in Israel is considered the oldest intentional burial with at least 15 people buried in a cave along with their tools and other ritual artifacts. The oldest known grave in Europe is 33,000 years old, uncovered in Britain.
In ancient Mesopotamia, tombs and graves were cut into the ground in hopes it would be easier for the soul of the buried person to reach the afterlife, believed to exist underground. The dead body was not embalmed, but washed and perfumed, cheeks painted, dark color applied on the eyelids, dressed presentably, adorned with rings, and provided it with a change of linen. This was performed by professional mourners, as recorded by a historian William James Durant.
For the ancient Greeks, remembrance of the dead was a very important civic and religious duty. They made sure to include carefully carved stones to the burial sites, to remind the living of the deceased and also of the honors still to be paid. Some were buried in elaborate tombs, monumental earth mounds all with extravagant marble stele and statues to mark the grave; others were buried in simple graves.
The Maya civilization viewed the afterlife as a grim world filled with danger and darkness. So, their burial rites were centered on guiding the soul in the right direction to freedom from the underworld. Bodies were placed in underground graves, as in Mesopotamia, and were aligned in accordance with the directions of the Mayan paradise. The dead were buried with maize in their mouth as a symbol of the rebirth of their soul and to nourish the soul on its journey through the dark of the nether world. Corpses were sprinkled with the red mineral cinnabar, the color red symbolizing death, and wrapped in cotton for burial.
In ancient India, as throughout India’s history, cremation was the usual practice when someone died, predominantly a person of distinction. The body was burned on a pyre, and ashes were buried under a memorial shrine. In later days’, cremation became the privilege of every deceased. Many Hindus burn the body on a pyre and shed the ashes in the Ganges River.
The Roman burial practices always took place during the night so as not to disrupt daily life in the city. To keep the boundary between the living and the dead, and for health reasons, no one could be buried inside the city, so a funeral procession began in the city and ended at the cemetery outside the city walls. The body was then either buried in a tomb, or burned and the ashes gathered in an urn. Proper burial of the dead was extremely important to the Romans. It was in the city of Rome that Catholic traditions of burial originated, and got established as the most common customs in funerals, whether secular or religious, in the modern western world.
The Chinese burial practice, throughout the history of different eras or dynasties, involved ritual ceremonies and adding personal property in the tomb or grave of the deceased since their belief was that afterlife resembled earthly existence and the dead would need their favorite objects and things of value.
Burial practices in Scotland and Ireland included building cairns, dolmens, and passage graves as new homes for their dead. Wooden coffins also appear around the 2000 BC and personal possessions were commonly buried with the dead. The Celts were known for making caskets out of flat stones, however those were only used to bury aristocrats and nobility.
In all Christian countries throughout history the deceased were buried in collective burial pits surrounded by charnel houses. The exception were the most honored members of the community, who had private burial grounds or vaults inside the church, and the shunned who were buried outside the churchyard. The practice to inter in individual sepulchers with personalized tombstones became common custom with the emerging individualism around the 19th century.
In modern times, different funeral customs continue to exist in different cultures. Regardless of whether a person has opted for burial or for cremation, the funeral or memorial service fulfills an important role in honoring, recognizing and celebrating the life of the deceased. The service also allows friends and family to console one another, say their last good-byes, and it provides closure after the loss of a loved one.
At DeBord Snyder Funeral Home & Crematory, we understand that making final plans for the loved one who passed can be very difficult, so we make sure that you and your family’s personal preferences are carried through to the smallest detail, with gentle guidance, compassion and professionalism.
Our commitment and mission is to assist families with undivided attention, kindness and compassion as we provide a meaningful, affordable funeral or memorial service.
Whether you choose a traditional or personalized funeral or memorial service, your funeral director at DeBord Snyder Funeral Home & Crematory will ensure that you receive the level of care that you need before, during and after the service. Our hope is that knowing that your loved one is taken care of with dignity and respect will bring you more comfort and peace.
When searching for funeral homes in Lancaster, PA, we invite you to learn more about DeBord Snyder Funeral Home & Crematory and how we can assist you during your time of loss: https://www.debordsnyder.com/