Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Ukrainian funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Belgian funeral traditions and Bulgarian funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
For three days following a death, Ukrainians believe the soul stays by the body. During these three days, family and friends can view the deceased and say their respects. The casket remains open and sometimes mourners place items inside, such as bread and coins wrapped in a handkerchief.
Visitors often come during the night so the deceased isn’t left alone in the dark. There’s usually a midnight dinner with candles placed around the room followed by a vigil. If they bring flowers, it’s important that there’s an even number of them. For other occasions, it’s an odd number of flowers, but for funerals, it’s an even number.
Ukrainian Funeral Service
On the funeral day, a bowl of water and a towel are left out as an offering for the deceased. Ukrainians believe the deceased drinks the water and use the towel to wash their tears away. However, mourners shouldn’t drink water while near the deceased.
The most common religion in Ukraine is Eastern Orthodox with 65.4% of the population, so a Ukrainian funeral typically follows this religion’s customs. There’s also an open-casket viewing during the funeral service. Many close family and friends give the deceased a final kiss, often called the last farewell or the last kiss.
After the funeral service, mourners go to the gravesite if there’s a burial. Although not as common today, sometimes in mountainous areas of Ukraine, they use sleds to move the deceased to the burial location.
During the 40-day mourning period, the community has memorial feasts on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after the death. They also have feasts on the six-month and one-year anniversaries of the deceased’s death. Food that may be served is Kolach, a fruit-filled pastry, and Koliva, a funeral cake made with boiled wheat and honey. The Kolach pastry is a circular shape to symbolize eternity.
Annually, on the days following Easter, everyone celebrates Provody, a remembrance event for honoring and remembering their ancestors. It’s a time to put their ancestors’ spirits at ease so they continue to rest in peace. Families gather at the gravesites to say goodbye to their loved ones again and celebrate their lives. Afterward, there’s a remembrance feast to honor their lives.