A Guide to Funeral Etiquette

Essential advice on funeral etiquette – what to wear, how to act, and what different religions expect

Last updated: 10 November 2016

There are several different customs that you may need to follow when attending a funeral. Funeral etiquette can vary depending on religion and circumstances.

What to wear

How to dress for a funeral largely depends on cultural traditions, or according to the custom of a particular religion.

Many people assume that the traditional attire for funerals is all black. However, it is becoming more common for the clothing requirements to be simply formal (suits or smart dresses). Sometimes the bereaved even request that guests wear bright colors to celebrate the life of their loved one, although this kind of request will usually be communicated in the funeral notice. If in doubt of what to wear to a funeral, consulting with the family or a close friend of the family is advisable.

Religious customs may apply. Below is a list of religions and what they would usually expect you to wear to a funeral:

  • Christian: Christian funerals usually just require you to be dressed smartly. Although black may be traditional, family wishes should be taken into account regarding colors.
  • Hindu: Mourners at the funeral usually wear white. Visitors are required to wear subdued colors. Men will occasionally shave their heads as a sign of respect.
  • Jewish: Jewish funeral etiquette varies depending on the branch of Judaism. Orthodox Jews require everyone at the funeral to cover their heads. If you arrive without a head covering, you will usually be provided with one. Conservative Jews ask that only men cover their heads.
  • Muslim: Family and close friends may wear black and women may be asked to wear a scarf or veil.
  • Buddhism: The family will usually wear white and friends traditionally wear black. You are not required to cover your head.

If the funeral you are attending is none of the above, it is best to check with the family or close friends prior to the service. The wishes of the family must always be taken into account.

The Chapel of Rest

The Chapel of Rest is a place where mourners are able to visit their loved one and pay their respects, usually situated within the funeral home. This is most commonly associated with Christian and occasionally Jewish services. If you wish to visit the Chapel of Rest, you must always ask permission from the family. There may be a book to sign to show that you have visited.

Where to sit

There is usually no seating plan for a funeral. It is customary for the family and close friends to sit at the front. If you are not in either of these categories, it is recommended to wait respectfully until they have taken their seats and find somewhere accordingly. However, if there are only a small number of people in attendance, it is best to not sit right at the back.

Who should attend?

Usually, an announcement will be made in the local paper, or you will hear of the funeral by word of mouth. Increasingly more and more people find out online. If you wish to attend, the family will generally be very receptive. Occasionally, the service may be private. In this case, only family and close friends will be asked to attend.

Children under the age of five may not necessarily understand what is happening, so it may be more appropriate to leave them at home with a minder. If you wish to bring a child over five, ensure that they are happy to go along as it may be disturbing for them. If the funeral is for a child, it may not be appropriate to bring children. If in doubt, ask the family what they would prefer.

Flowers

If you are considering flowers as a tribute, most families will be very receptive. Some religions such as Orthodox Judaism do not consider flowers appropriate, but in such cases, and where families request ‘no flowers,’ a charitable donation might be a thoughtful tribute in lieu.

You can send flowers to the family’s home, the funeral itself or the funeral home. Be aware that some types of funeral flower arrangements have different meanings.

The reception

This takes place after the funeral service has finished. It often happens in the evening or afternoon and it is a time when mourners can remember their loved one and reflect on their time with them. If you’re not close with the family, this is an appropriate time to introduce yourself.

Usually there are refreshments available. Receptions can last for hours, depending on how the family feels.