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 Welsh funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Guatemalan funeral traditions and Turkish funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
As of 2011, Christianity is Wales’ most common religion at 57.6%. Many Welsh Christians follow the Church in Wales. In 1920 after the Welsh Church Act 1914, the Church of England disestablished in Wales, which is how the Church in Wales came about. However, the Church in Wales still isn’t considered an established church.
Traditional Welsh Funeral Service
Traditionally when someone died, the deceased’s family washed the body and placed it on a table. They covered up mirrors, closed curtains, and left out sweet-scented herbs in the room with the deceased.
The wake, also known as gwylnos, occurred on the night before the burial. They made sure the deceased was never left alone. Everyone gathered to eat bread and cheese and drink wine or beer while mourning the deceased. Mourners also gave the family gifts, such as cake or gingerbread.
Before the burial, everyone ate a slice of funeral cake with mulled wine. Then, the deceased’s family carried the body to the burial location. Everyone wore black gloves to symbolize their sorrow and said prayers and sang hymns at the burial. Before leaving, everyone placed a silver coin on the gravedigger’s shovel to thank them for their service.
Welsh Funeral Service Today
A Welsh funeral today typically follows Christian traditions including reciting Bible readings, hymns, and prayers. We’ll focus on the funeral practices of the Church in Wales. Their funeral rituals are similar to the funeral traditions here in the United States and Canada.
The family may choose to have a private viewing before or after the funeral. They also gather at the deceased’s home to say prayers before and/or after the funeral service. On the one-year anniversary of the death and future death anniversaries, they meet again to honor and remember the deceased.
The funeral service is either at the church, gravesite, or another significant location. For the service, the casket is carried into the church or wherever the funeral service is located. They also set up candles, including the Paschal candle, and other meaningful items. However, the funeral for a child or young person has a different tone and rituals, such as different readings and hymns.
Burial or Cremation
Both burial and cremation are common Welsh funeral arrangements. However, there isn’t a lot of burial space left in Wales. It’s easier to find a burial location for cremated remains versus a casket. Green alternatives also are beginning to take off in some areas.
After the funeral, the casket is taken to either the burial location or crematorium. The burial may take place in a cemetery or churchyard. However, families need to check with their chosen church or cemetery to see if there’s burial space available.