Attending a funeral is a trial and tribulation for most because of the task of having to say goodbye to a loved one. Being from Boston, I’ve attended a wide variety of different events honoring the dead and have learned about hundreds of different ways to celebrate and grieve over the loss of friends and family. Boston is a melting pot for different traditions and customs, which is why it’s such a wonderful place to live. You might think it was always this way but in actuality, funeral processions were administered in a very specific way back in Victorian Times. After researching this topic a bit, I was a little surprised by the rigidness of the occasion and the strict template that grievers were expected to follow. While we typically choose traditions that exemplify the celebration of one’s life, in other times, this wasn’t always the case. Take a look at these fascinating rites and rituals associated with Victorian funerals and the rules you were meant to follow.
- When a person died, people were asked to stop their clocks at the exact time of death and not restart them until after the funeral. This made attending anything on time in the next 3-4 days nearing impossible!
- Wreaths were hung on the outside of doors usually constructed out of laurel leaf and decorated with a black ribbon. Veils were also hung on mirrors to both block the corpse’s spirit from escaping through the glass and to deny death an entryway into the house.
- “Waking” did not start off as the predecessor event for funerals as it does here back in Victorian times. While we usually hold this occasion for friends and family to view the body in privacy, waking was originally termed to mean the body had to be watched in a home until the actual funeral was held. It was popular belief that the spirit could escape if not watched twenty-four hours a day before burial.
- Flowers and candles are usually thought of as enhancements for funerals but back in the day, they were utilized to block putrid scents of decaying flesh. The smell of a three-day-old corpse could be so stagnant that flowers and aromatic candles were placed around the body to mask some of the odor.
- Kids usually think that “Saved By The Bell” means you’re let off the hook in a due to the distraction of a school bell but really, the term was coined to alert caretakers of a premature guest in a coffin! Yup, a bell was placed on top of coffins to signal a person who hadn’t really died but was instead sick or in a coma. It was their luckiest day of their life if they woke up in time and could make enough movement to sound the alarm above.