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Depending on the cultural or religious background of the deceased or the deceased’s family there may be several different events both before and after the funeral takes place. This article will describe the difference between a wake and viewing, which themselves are different from a funeral service.
Keep in mind that we will be discussing the traditional difference between the two, although nowadays the term wake and viewing are often used interchangeably and are often a form of memorial service at the funeral home, place of worship, or a family home the day of or several days before the funeral.
What is a Viewing?
A viewing or visitation is an informal event in which family members, friends, and acquaintances can come to pay their respects, offer their condolences, and share their grief with one another. During the viewing, the body of the deceased may be present either in a closed or open casket, or simply represented by an urn or picture to symbolize their presence. For many families and close friends, it is important to spend time with the body one last time. Some individuals may wish to come for a couple of hours, while others may only wish to be present for a couple of moments.
If you are attending a viewing please dress appropriately and follow the instructions of the family, they will likely give instructions both on time, location, and attire for the viewing. All of these things can also be found on an Obitia Tribute Page if the family has decided to create one.
What is a Wake?
Wakes are similar to a viewing and are traditionally an Irish Catholic ceremony based on old Celtic traditions. According to tradition, the deceased’s loved ones would stay awake during the night to watch over the deceased to protect them against evil spirits until they were buried the following day (hence why they are called “wakes”). Wakes both today and traditionally serve the same function for mourners as a viewing, in that they get to be close to the deceased physically and can mourn together in person.
Is a Wake and a Viewing the Same Thing?
While functionally they are very similar, especially in modern times, where mourners will not likely stay awake all night with the deceased as a would happen in a traditional Irish Roman Catholic wake. The main difference is that modern wakes tend to be Catholic, which may include a short ceremony or a traditional Catholic religious service, such as a rosary service. However, more often than not the terms are used interchangeably to mean the same thing, a memorial service in which friends and family can get together to mourn and share condolences in an informal setting before the funeral ceremony takes place.
As with so many things related to funerals it is best to check with the deceased’s family and consult any information they have shared either through a Tribute Page, invitation, or an obituary. If you are unable to find the information, it may be a good idea to call and speak with the funeral home or funeral director to find out what is planned. At the end of the day, the semantics are irrelevant, what matters is that loved ones and family get to spend time together and honor their loved one in a way that celebrates their life and allows them to say goodbye in their own way.