The Evolution of Funeral Traditions and Rituals

Death is as old as life itself, and as such, so too are the ways in which we process it. As early as 115,00 years ago, there is evidence of Neanderthals practising deliberate burial rituals, as well as the positioning of deceased people in caves to symbolise some aspect of their life or its passing. Ever since then, these rituals and symbolic gestures have continually evolved to become known as the traditions we all recognise in modern Western funerals. While some are contemporary takes on Pagan rituals, others are brand new inventions and many are far older than recorded history. In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at how some of our most long standing funeral traditions and rituals came to be.

Why Do We Traditionally Wear Black?

The donning of black funeral garb dates at least as far back as the Roman empire, where both men and women would wear what was known as ‘toga pulla’, or ‘dark toga’, to signify their state of mourning and respect for the deceased.

This tradition continued after the fall of the Romans and into the Middle Ages – most commonly seen in the wearing of black hats and caps for women in mourning – right through to its current iteration. Our contemporary style of funeral dress was popularised by Queen Victoria, who wore mourning veils for the remaining 40 years of her life after the death of her husband, Prince Albert. She famously never wore a crown again for fear of removing her veil, a move that inspired Victorian women to wear mourning dresses for a full 2 years.

Where Do Funeral Flowers Come From?

Not all funeral traditions come from symbolic beginnings, and the presence of flowers at funerals actually arose from a more practical (albeit more morbid) purpose than the decorative sentiment they represent today. In days past, when the process of preparing the deceased for funerals was in its earlier stages, flowers would be placed in varying quantities around the coffin to help mask the scents that would be off putting to funeral attendees.

This isn’t to say, however, that they weren’t also symbolic in meaning, and we know that humans as early as 62,000 B.C. chose to place wildflowers beside their dearly departed. Different blooms have also historically come to signify specific qualities about the person who has died, for example, white roses are said to symbolise humility and innocence, whereas red can convey love or yellow a valued friendship.

Why Do We Have Funeral Processions?

Funeral processions are yet another tradition we in Britain can trace back to the Romans, but they were also thought to be common amongst Ancient Greek and Egyptian societies too. Funeral processions have differed in scale and extravagance over time, but their principle of accompanying a loved one on their final journey has more or less remained the same. As a highly personal way to say goodbye, it’s hard to see this ancient ritual falling out of favour anytime soon.

Need to Start Making Funeral Arrangements?

Whether you’re looking to arrange a funeral that honours traditions, or put on something unique and personal to your loved one, Callum Robertson Funeral Directors is here to help. Our compassionate and experienced team will help you make funeral arrangements that truly celebrate the life of the person you’ve lost with a range of bespoke features. To find out more about what we do, please get in touch.

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