A wake (Irish: faire) is a ceremony associated with death. Traditionally, a wake takes place in the house of the deceased with the body present; however, modern wakes are often performed at a funeral home. In the United States and Canada it is synonymous with a viewing. It is often a social rite which highlights the idea that the loss is one of a social group and affects that group as a whole.
The English word "wake" originated from the ancient Indo-European root *wog or *weg, meaning "to be active", related to the Latin vigil. This evolved into several meanings, including "growth" ("vegetable"), "to become or stay alert," and "watching or guarding." The third also evolved into the word "watch," and it is in this sense that people have a "wake" for someone who recently died. While the modern usage of the verb "wake" is "become or stay alert" meaning, a "wake" for the dead harks back to the antiquated "watch" or "guard" sense. This is contrary to the urban legend that people at a wake are waiting in case the deceased should "wake up."
In 1752 Richard Pococke observed a wake in County Down: "I saw a number of women in an adjacent cabin, and my curiosity led me to go in, it was a wake over the body of an old man, who was stretched on the floor and covered with a sheet. About 3 feet above the corpse was a board covered with a white cloth, on which they place candles; and the women sit round the corpse, they are entertained with a spirit of Barley, call'd Whiskey, with Tobacco and sometimes with bread, cake, &c, and frequently drink to excess with such instances of mortality before their eyes, and this they look on as an act of Devotion."
Women held important social and symbolic roles during the Irish wake. Jenny Butler examines the ascribed social roles of women connected with death in the context of pre-modern Irish society. From the "white women" who prepare and lay out the corpse, to the roles of women during the wake itself and keening women who ritually lament for the dead, there are many connections between women and death in Irish culture.
See also 
- 1991 Metcalf, Peter & Richard Huntington. Celebrations of Death: The Anthropology of Mortuary Ritual. Cambridge Press, New York. Print.
- The American Heritage dictionary of the English language. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2000. ISBN 0-395-82517-2.
- Ivan Brunetti; Wilton, David A. (2004). Word myths: debunking linguistic urban legends. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517284-1.
- Tour in Ireland, p. 14
- Butler, Jenny, " Symbolic and Social Roles of Women in Death Ritual in Traditional Irish Society". 108-121 in Håland, E. J., ed. (2008), Women, Pain and Death: Rituals and Everyday Life on the Margins of Europe and Beyond, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, ISBN 1-84718-870-2
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