Ask Your Funeral Director: Why do people wear black for funerals?
By Jason Meidl, funeral director at Creston Valley Funeral Services
Summer is over. Today, as I write this, I look out at the beautiful colours that are a trademark of the Creston Valley. We always know when summer has said goodbye as we see the fall colours line our streets. We often associate colour with how we feel and grief or the funeral process isn’t any different. Traditionally, the colour of grief and funerals is black.
“Why do people wear black for funerals?” – Rob
Wearing black to a funeral is a long-standing tradition in many areas of the world, particularly in Canada and the United States. Funerals are usually somber occasions, and wearing black indicates that you’re mourning the loss of someone. It’s also considered a sign of respect for the deceased. Historians believe the tradition of wearing black at funerals dates back to at least the time of the Roman Empire. The ancient Romans would wear a dark toga, known as a toga pulla, to mourn the loss of a loved one. Many of these customs were passed down from English predecessors. Historians note that Queen Victoria was known for wearing black to funerals to show dignity and respect for those in mourning. While black is the traditional colour of mourning in Western nations, many other countries around the world have different customs. In India and China, for example, the traditional colour of mourning is white. Indian Hindus wear white because it’s the colour of purity. Countries throughout Asia and Africa have a wide variety of customary funeral colours. In South Africa and Ghana, red is often worn to funerals. You can also find countries that wear purple (Thailand), yellow (Myanmar), and blue (Iran).
“What do I do when I see a funeral procession?” – Karen
I will start with what a funeral procession is. Traditionally, families drive in a line or a procession behind the hearse. In some cases that may mean a lead vehicle, followed by the hearse, and then at times with a limousine carrying either family members or pallbearers, and other variations of this. Most funeral vehicles are equipped with purple flashing lights and magnetic purple flags which go on the rest of the vehicles in the procession. As someone who leads funeral processions, I always try to do my best to keep the vehicles together in the procession without breaking any traffic laws. The laws vary by province, but, generally, you’re supposed to follow the standard rules of the road when you encounter a funeral procession. In Manitoba, drivers in a funeral procession can go through a red light or a stop sign with caution. In B.C., the law says they should not be impeding the flow of trafﬁc. Prince Edward Island is the only province that requires drivers to pull over for a procession. I often see vehicles pulling off the road when they see us coming as a sign of respect, and at times I have seen people stop walking, remove their hats, and stand and wait until we pass by. Now, I will be honest this isn’t the norm. More often than not I have people speed on by or even try to turn into the procession itself. None of this is inherently illegal but I would recommend and encourage people to take that extra time to honour the person who is being transported in the procession. It could be you one day. I have had some experiences from motorists that have appalled me. In a recent service, I had the hearse ready to go and was just waiting for the rest of the procession to come in behind and had a vehicle drive by and honk and yell profanities at us. This is definitely not proper funeral procession etiquette.
In today’s world, we have ride-sharing apps like Lyft and Uber. During the medieval period, they had coffin-sharing. Many parish churches had community coffins, which could be borrowed or leased to transport the deceased person from the home to the churchyard. When they arrived at the graveside, the body would be removed from the coffin and buried in a simple shroud.
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