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 Belarusian funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about ancient Mesopotamian funeral traditions and Torajan funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
Belarusian Funeral Service
The Belarus population has a mix of people who are religious and non-religious. As of 2011, 48.3% of Belarusians identify with Eastern Orthodoxy while 41.1% identify as non-religious. For this reason, a Belarusian funeral service may follow more Christian funeral traditions or be more secular in nature. But rather than focus on an extravagant service, they put a greater emphasis on the post-funeral receptions.
Post-Burial Funeral Meal
Immediately following the burial, there is a post-burial funeral meal that all mourners are welcome to attend. It’s a way to honor and respect their loved one and remember their deceased ancestors. It also shows appreciation to the mourners for supporting the grieving family.
The funeral meal consists of several rich dishes. The dishes vary depending on the region of Belarus, but two typical main dishes are dumplings and hot wheat bread. However, the bread can’t be cut with a knife; it must be broken off with your hands. Some other common dishes are raisin bread, meat pastries, noodles, potatoes, cabbage, sausage, pancakes, and omelets.
A tradition that some women practice is touching the oven three times in the home of the deceased. This is done to prevent more deaths in the family. Another tradition is to seat the eldest person at the table first in a place of honor. This shows respect to the elderly and recognition that they may be next to die. Once everyone is seated, young people can’t leave the table earlier than others or else they may have an early death.
Religious Post-Burial Funeral Meal
For those who are religious, the funeral meal shows their faith in the afterlife. Many people believe the deceased’s soul stays at home for nine days following their death until their afterlife journey. So they set a place for the deceased’s soul at the table. They also believe their ancestors’ souls visit during the funeral meal. To prevent overcrowding the souls, they make sure everyone doesn’t sit too closely together.
A white tablecloth may mark the table or bench the deceased’s body was on. They also may leave out a towel and glass of water for the soul to wash their hands before eating. They leave the glass and towel on the bench/table for five to six days.
Before eating, a priest says Litany to respect the deceased and bless the food. If it’s during Lent, they’ll serve fish. Afterward, they give the food set out for the deceased’s soul to the children or take it to the cemetery. They also leave the dishes out in case the deceased wants more food later.
Additional Funeral Meals
On several death anniversary dates, the close family members have funeral meals that are less elaborate than the post-burial meal. They have funeral meals on the sixth, ninth, and 40th days after the death and on the six-month death anniversary.
Some common dishes served at these meals are bagels, potato soup, dumplings, noodles, boiled meat, pancakes, and vegetables. There also is usually a specific order that they’ll serve the dishes in.