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What Is a Wake?

A wake forms part of funeral traditions and rites. Many cultures carry out a wake anytime from the death to the night before the burial. Depending on the culture, the wake may last one night or several nights until burial. The wake takes place at the home of the deceased, but some modern societies are opting for the funeral parlor as a venue. It typically takes place the whole night, with a number of people obliged to stay awake near the body.

Historically, the reasoning behind holding a wake was to watch the body for any signs of life thus making sure the person was definitely dead before burial. Different cultures have a wake for different reasons. Some use the wake to simply pay their last respects as a formal farewell, or for body viewing or as a celebration of the deceased’s life, friendships and success or to wish the deceased well in the next or after life. Celtic traditions used the wake as a celebration for the deceased’s departure into the afterlife which they believed was better than the present world. After setting a boat on fire and letting it float to sea bearing the deceased’s body, the Vikings celebrated the deceased’s life for a whole night.

Jamaicans, the Maori in New Zealand the Irish and most African cultures include feasting and drinking in the wake. They perform songs of morning, prayers, they give speeches to comfort the family and friends, and even do performances of the deceased in his life roles.

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