10 U.S. Funeral Traditions Explained

by Ambuj Whig February 11, 2022 4 min read

In early America, families typically held funerals at their homes. Communities had groups of women who came to help grieving families lay out the bodies of the deceased. The process began with a visitation at home before a procession to the church and the final resting place.

It was common practice for American families to care for their own dead until the 1800s. This tradition changed with the Civil War. While some traditions carry on, modern funeral traditions in the U.S. are different from the early days of America.

Here are 10 funeral traditions in the U.S. explained.


1. The Visitation or “Viewing” at a Funeral Home

At one time, Americans displayed the deceased’s body in their homes for friends and family to visit with before the burial.

Today, visitations or viewings are typically held at funeral homes. During the viewing, the decedent’s body is put on display in a casket. The casket may be opened or closed, depending on the family’s wishes. Those who attend the viewing are often asked to sign a book, which is kept by the survivors.

The mourning family may display photos of the decedent, their prized possessions or other items that represent the person’s accomplishments or hobbies.

Not every funeral will include a viewing service. Some families may prefer not to have a viewing. A Jewish funeral service will not include a viewing, nor will the body be displayed or embalmed.


2. The Funeral Service

A funeral or memorial service is typically held after the viewing. The service may include:

  • Prayers
  • Readings from sacred texts
  • Music
  • Sharing stories of the deceased

The clergy may provide words of comfort. While many American funeral services are religious in nature, they don’t have to be. Families can host celebrations of life or memorial services that do not include religious customs.

Generally, the funeral service provides loved ones with one last chance to stay good-bye to the decedent. The service may be held at the funeral home, a church or other place of worship. Families may wish to have a viewing at a funeral home and the service at the church.


3. The Burial Service

If the decedent wishes to be buried, a burial service may be held. This service may be held directly after the funeral service. In this case, the casket is carried by pallbearers from the church or funeral home to a hearse and the final resting place. This process is known as a funeral procession. Pallbearers are usually male and close relatives of the decedent.

Generally, the casket remains closed during the burial service. However, in some religious traditions, the coffin may be reopened one last time to give the family a final chance to see the body and say their good-byes.

Burial services are held at the gravesite, tomb or mausoleum, where the body will be laid to rest. If the decedent served in the military, military rites will be accorded.


4. Cremation is Becoming a New Tradition

          A large hall or a church hall with chandelier


While burials are still very common in the United States, cremation is quickly becoming the preferred option.

Final services can also be held for cremations. The traditional burial service may instead be held at the crematorium or the final resting place of the decedent’s urn. Urns may also be buried, or they may be placed in a mausoleum.


5. Gatherings Following the Funeral Service

Following funeral and/or burial services in the U.S., close relatives and friends often gather at the surviving family’s home or a separate location.

Food and drink are typically served at these gatherings. They give loved ones a chance to share memories and pay their respects to the survivors.


6. Eulogies, Hymns and Readings

          3 people are standing without faces in black funeral outfit


Funeral and/or burial services often include readings from:

  • Sacred texts
  • Eulogies
  • Hymns

Family and friends may say a few words about the decedent. They may share memories or talk about the individual’s personality or accomplishments.

In certain religious denominations, such as Anglican or Roman Catholic, eulogies are discouraged or inappropriate.


7. Flowers and Personalized End-of-Life Items


A flowers are placed with cross pendant nearby

Family and friends often send flowers for the viewing as well as the funeral service, although this custom may not be appropriate for funerals in certain religious traditions.

Additionally, survivors and close relatives may purchase personalized end-of-life items to remember the decedent. These may include personalized brass urns to display in the home or cremation jewelry that allows them to carry their loved one with them everywhere they go. Other family members may receive keepsake urns with just a small amount of ashes in them to remember their lost loved one.


8. Mourners Wear Black or Dark Colors

In the U.S. (and many other parts of the world), it is custom to wear black or dark colors to a funeral. Mourners typically dress formally, especially if services are held at a church.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, some families ask attendees to wear casual clothing, specific colors or bright colors. The style of clothing will be largely dependent on the family’s and decedent’s wishes.


9. Some Families Choose Private Funerals

A family may choose to have a private funeral for a number of reasons. It may be due to the circumstances of the individual’s death, personal preferences or for economic reasons. Some decedents do not wish to have a funeral service.


10. Family and Friends Bring Meals to the Grieving Family

In the days leading up to and after the funeral service, it’s common for close friends and family to bring meals to the survivors.

Every loss is devastating, regardless of the circumstances. Following the death of a loved, survivors must go through the difficult process of making funeral arrangements and grieving their loss. It can be a challenge to manage everyday tasks, like cooking. Meals are brought to survivors to ease this burden and allow them time to grieve.

Funereal traditions in the U.S. have evolved over time, moving from the home parlor to the funeral parlor. These traditions continue to change as more Americans choose cremation over burials.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in Blogs

A woman cuddling her mother from backside to show her lover for her mother.
5 Best Memorial Gifts to Remember your mother on this Mother’s Day

by Alex Johnson May 16, 2024 5 min read

Mother’s Day is not just a celebration of the present, but a cherished opportunity to honor the life and legacy of our mothers, even if they are no longer present amongst us.Whether it's a memorial portrait plaque, a dignified urn, as pretty as a picture cremation necklace, a discreet cremation bead, or a personalized engraved urn, each gift captures the essence of a mother's incomparable presence in our lives.
Read More
Two hands clasping another person's hand in between, forming a symbol of support.
10 Unique Urns you didn’t even realize were an option

by Alex Johnson May 09, 2024 7 min read

Exploring unique urn options can offer a meaningful way to celebrate the memory of a loved one. From biodegradable cremation urns that return to nature to custom-designed urns for ashes that reflect personal passions or interests, there's a wide range of choices beyond the traditional. 
Read More
Family member taking care of her elder after loosing a loved one
Keep Your Loved Ones Close: Why Cremation Jewelry is Popular

by Cameron Allahverdi March 22, 2024 6 min read

Cremation jewelry offers a personalized and meaningful way to honor the memory of a loved one by holding a small portion of their cremated remains in a beautiful piece of jewelry.
Read More