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Wake (ceremony)

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Mira qué bonita era ("Look How Lovely She Was") by Julio Romero de Torres, 1895.

A wake or visitation is a social gathering associated with death, held before a funeral. Traditionally, a wake involves family and friends keeping watch over the body of the dead person, usually in the home of the deceased. Some wakes are held at a funeral home or another convenient location. The wake or the viewing of the body is a part of death rituals in many cultures. It allows one last interaction with the dead, providing a time for the living to express their thoughts and feelings with the deceased.[1] It highlights the idea that the loss is borne by the whole community and is a way of honoring the deceased member.[2] The emotional tone of a wake is sometimes seen as more positive than a funeral due to the socially supportive atmosphere and the focus on the life rather than the death of the deceased.[3]



The term originally referred to a late-night prayer vigil but is now mostly used for the social interactions accompanying a funeral. While the modern usage of the verb wake is "become or stay alert", a wake for the dead harks back to the vigil, "watch" or "guard" of earlier times. It is a misconception that people at a wake are waiting in case the deceased should "wake up".[4]

The term wake was originally used to denote a prayer vigil, often an annual event held on the feast day of the saint to whom a parish church was dedicated.[5] Over time the association with prayer has become less important, although not lost completely,[6] and in many countries a wake is now mostly associated with the social interactions accompanying a funeral.[4]


An Irish wake as depicted in the later 19th century
Plaque in Thurles marking the site of the wake of the writer Charles Kickham.

The wake (Irish: tórramh, faire) is a key part of the death customs of Ireland; it is an important phase in the separation of the dead from the world of the living and transition to the world of the dead.[7] Typically lasting one or two days, it is a continuous watch kept over the dead by family and friends, usually in their own home, before burial.[7] Shane McCorristine writes that the original purposes of an Irish wake were to honour the dead, to celebrate their life, to ensure that death had really occurred, to guard the body from evil, and to placate their soul.[8]

Shortly after death, the body is usually prepared and placed in a coffin at a funeral home, then brought to the dead person's home for the wake, which is now referred to as the 'wake house'. Historically, the body was usually washed, groomed and clothed in a white shroud at their own home by local wise women.[7] Traditionally, windows of a wake house are left open to let the soul leave the room, mirrors are covered or turned around, clocks are stopped, and household pets are kept out for the duration of the wake.[7] It is also customary for candles to be kept lit.[8]

Relatives and friends are expected to visit to pay respects to the dead and to their family, who in turn provide hospitality.[7] At intervals, a collective prayer might be said; for Catholics usually the Rosary.[7] Traditionally there is food and drink, as well as storytelling, music, singing and dancing.[7] Historically, wakes were important social gatherings for the young, who sometimes partook in rowdier amusements and courtship.[7] Patricia Lysaght says the traditional revelry at wakes can be seen as a way of reasserting the life of the community in the face of death.[7] However, when a death is particularly tragic, or that of a child, the wake is more private and mournful.[8]

Historically, keening was performed at the wake by a group of women who sat around the body. It was a poetic lament for the dead, addressed directly to the dead person. A leading keening woman (bean chaointe) chanted verses and led a choral death wail, in which the other keeners joined while swaying rhythmically. Sometimes professional keeners were hired to fulfill this obligation to the dead. Lysaght writes, "This communal lamentation is often described as having a cathartic effect on family and community members present".[7]

Both keening and the rowdier 'wake games' gradually died out in the late 19th century, due to condemnation from church authorities.[7]

At the end of the wake, the coffin is carried out of the wake house by male family and friends.[7]



Historically, there was a custom in Wales to store the coffin in the home until the funeral.[9] Friends and neighbours would volunteer for the ritual of gwylio'r corff ('watching the body'). The wake, known as gwylnos was held the night preceding the funeral and was a time of merriment.



After the three-century rule of the Spaniards in the Philippines, came the American occupation. American culture and influence started to find a place in a Philippine context by using various mediums, specifically the use of free trade. In this trading for and with the American market, a co-dependence between America and the Philippines was established.[10] Another medium of cultural assimilation from America was their implementation of their education system during the first decade of their occupation, all in which showing more prevalent effects in the political and cultural development of the Filipinos.[11] With the then-new educational system, young Filipinos were taught different American cultural devices such as their songs, values and ideals, and their subsequent assimilation of many of their traditions.[11] All these factors brought about by America allowed for a heterogeneous assimilation between the two distinct cultures that resulted in a unique outcome of specific American influence forming a distinct Filipino image. From here, this is a rich source to understand the nation in its present situation and its historical context.[12]

In relation to burial practices, the Philippine culture has borrowed heavily from the Americans. In the Philippine wake for example, also known as a lamay, it is tradition that the family and friends hold the body of the deceased in a casket for 5 to 7 days for viewing;[13] this is patterned from the visitation practiced in American wakes, in which they host the deceased's body clothed and treated with various cosmetics in a funeral home for display and presentability.[14] Both cultures adapting to a similar execution of ritual grief. Another turning point courtesy of the American influence is the practice of cremation. Drawing heavily from the Catholic faith, many Filipinos do not practice cremation as they believe that the body must remain intact in order to fulfill and prepare for the resurrection of the dead.[13] Filipinos claimed that cremation must not be observed due to the Catholic church banning this practice, however as early as 1963 the ban was lifted and this point was emphasized in the 1983 revised Canon Law.[15] Cremation remains mostly taboo from a domestic cultural standpoint.[16]

Other modern wakes


Wake customs similar to those of Ireland are still found in North-western Scotland and in Northern England.

Noting the crowd, the emotion, and alcohol, Tom Watson, writing in Forbes, said of the The Concert for New York City, " The Garden was the biggest Irish wake in history."[17]

See also



  1. ^ Hoy, William G. (2013). Do Funerals Matter? : The Purposes and Practices of Death Rituals in Global Perspective. Taylor and Francis. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-415-66204-8. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  2. ^ Metcalf, Peter & Richard Huntington (1991). Celebrations of Death: The Anthropology of Mortuary Ritual. [page needed] Cambridge Press, New York. [ISBN missing]
  3. ^ Davies, Douglas J. (2015). Mors Britannica: Lifestyle & Death-Style in Britain Today. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 129. ISBN 9780199644971.
  4. ^ a b Ivan Brunetti; Wilton, David A. (2004). Word myths: debunking linguistic urban legends. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517284-1.
  5. ^ Harland, John; Wilkinson, T. T. (1873). "Pageants, maskings and mummings". Lancashire legends traditions, pageants. George Routledge and Sons. pp. 123–124.
  6. ^ Lysik, David; Gilmour, Peter (1996). Now and at the Hour of Our Death: Instructions Concerning My Death and Funeral. Liturgy Training Publications. p. 28. ISBN 1-56854-286-0.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Lysaght, Patricia (2017). "Old Age, Death and Mourning". In Eugenio Biagini & Mary Daly (ed.). The Cambridge Social History of Modern Ireland. Cambridge University Press. pp. 286–293.
  8. ^ a b c McCorristine, Shane (2017). Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Mortality and Its Timings. Springer. pp. 4–7.
  9. ^ Gwyndaf, Robin (1997). "'The Sorrow of All People': Death, Grief and Comfort in a Welsh Rural Community". Folk Life: Journal of Ethnological Studies. 36 (1): 84–105. doi:10.1179/043087797798238170 – via Taylor & Francis Online.
  10. ^ Joaquin, Nick (2004). Culture and History. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing. ISBN 971-27-1300-8.
  11. ^ a b Agoncillo, Teodoro A. (1990). History of the Filipino People (8th ed.). Quezon City: Garotech. ISBN 971-10-2415-2 – via Archive.org.
  12. ^ Doronila, Maria (1992). National Identity and Social Change. University of the Philippines.
  13. ^ a b Hays, Jeffrey (2015). "Funerals in the Philippines". Facts and Details. Archived from the original on 11 February 2019. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
  14. ^ "U.S. Funeral Customs and Traditions". The Funeral Source. Archived from the original on 10 July 2017. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
  15. ^ Mateo, Janvic (1 November 2012). "More Pinoys Want Cremation". philstar.com. Archived from the original on 7 August 2017. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
  16. ^ Mateo, Janvic (1 November 2012). "More Pinoys Want Cremation". philstar.com. Archived from the original on 7 August 2017. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
  17. ^ Watson, Tom. "The Night The Who Saved New York", Forbes, December 7, 2012