Wakes & Vigils
A Wake is the custom of keeping a vigil or watch over a body from death until
burial. This once common practice survives among Roman Catholics in English
speaking countries, particularly in the U.S., and Ireland.
Wakes include prayers for the dead and comforting of the relatives of the deceased.
Often they are accompanied by feasting by the assembled mourners. Most modern
wakes are interrupted for the night. The traditional “Irish wake”, characterized by
drinking and boisterousness, has all but disappeared.
The term wake is also sometimes used to
refer to the Visitation, a modern funeral
custom that has generally supplanted the
wake. (see: U.S. Traditions) The
deceased’s family receives friends who
come to the funeral parlor to pay their
respects and to express sympathy, the day
or evening before a funeral.
The practice of remaining with a corpse to
safeguard it until burial began in ancient
times. The vigil became a religious
observance in early Christian England.
Traditionally a wake took place in the house of the deceased, with the body present.
However, modern wakes are often performed at a funeral home.
The tradition stems historically from an ancient tradition of watching over the
deceased's body in the hope that life might return and the term in many places is now
synonymous with viewing or funeral visitation . The purpose of the wake has
evolved so that now it has become a time for friends and loved ones of the deceased
to gather and to console the immediate family prior to the funeral.
In Ireland the traditional Catholic wake is still carried out. Soon after the death, word
of mouth will spread the news and neighbors will help in preparing food and drinks
and alcoholic beverages. The corpse will normally be dressed in white linen and laid
out in their own bed. Candles are usually lit and the corpse is never left alone.
The "Irish Wake" was a traditional mourning custom practiced in Ireland until the
mid-1970s. The customs are now only practiced in full in remote Irish towns that
honor tradition. An integral part of the grieving process for family, friends, and
neighbors of the deceased, Irish wakes were occasions that mixed joy and sadness.
The custom was a celebration of the life that had passed, and a chance to reminisce
about the person in a loving and lively fashion, complete with stories, songs, and
jokes that relate to his or her memory. But the tone of the wake may depend on the
circumstances of the death. In some cultures the wake is quite solemn, like the
Jewish tradition of sitting Shivah.
Similar parties were thrown in Ireland when a loved one left the country. These
became known as "American wakes" in the mid-19th century as Irish immigration to
the United States increased. Many emigrants would never see their Irish neighbors
and friends again, and a send off party was thrown that included the same mix of joy
and sadness found in an Irish wake.
In Iceland the wake ceremony is called kistulagning . It is a small funeral service or
held for the closest family members and friends. It takes up to 30 minutes and is
usually held in a small funeral chapel which is called a (kapella).
Funeral Visitation or "Viewing"
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