Similar Italian Funeral Customs in the US and Abroad
Italian funeral customs for those who live in Italy and for those who live abroad still share many similarities despite the physical distance between the homeland and its immigrants. Cultural funeral traditions have roots in many parts of shared society from economic factors to religious affiliation and even superstition.
Superstitious Beliefs in Italian Funerals
While Italian funerals are characterized by their gravity and mourners are charged with preserving the dignity of the deceased, some superstitions have endured. For example, one superstitious belief that has survived over the years is the belief that a person’s soul does not want to leave the earth, and as a result survivors must perform a number of rituals to help them leave.
Many Italians will not speak about the dead following the period of mourning out of fear of bringing them back to the earth. They also bury the deceased with their favorite material possessions in hopes this will encourage them not to return to earth.
Italian Funeral Services
Because of the influence of Catholicism throughout the country of Italy, major funeral traditions are in line with beliefs and practices of the religion.
- Italian Funeral Service: In keeping with Catholic traditions the funeral includes rituals such as the last rites, prayer vigil, funeral liturgy, and Catholic Mass. Family or friends are chosen as pall bearers, and family may or may not choose to say a few words about the deceased.
- Open or Closed Casket: Open casket funerals are common, as it is customary to kiss the deceased’s cheek or forehead at an Italian funeral. The kiss is symbolic of one’s respect for the deceased.
- Grave Site: Following mass, mourners gather at the site of the grave. Sometimes each person will walk up to the casket and throw a fistful of dirt or a flower on top. Grave space is a precious commodity in Italy, so interment usually takes place in a mausoleum. Italian cemeteries are a serene and park-like setting where people may choose to picnic or take a leisurely walk.
- Funeral Flowers: Flowers are an essential part of Italian funeral customs. They are commonly given to the family members of the deceased and they are placed on the casket and in the church.
- Appropriate Dress: Black is traditionally the color worn for funerals.
- Meals and Food: At the first word of a death, friends and neighbors will take food to the deceased’s family. Traditionally, people bring casseroles, fruit, desserts, and wine. Not only is this food used to feed the family, but it is offered to guests who visit.