Matters of life and death are commemorated very differently across different cultures and traditions. To make things more complicated, these practices are ever-changing as the world evolves. In Singapore, the multicultural aspect of our people also presents a unique blend of customs.
If you’ve attended a Chinese funeral in Singapore, some of the customs may be familaiar to you, while others may baffle you. Wondering what some of these traditions really mean? Here is a peek into some of these common customs seen at Chinese funerals.
1. Age is highly significant
In the Chinese culture, age and social hierarchy are placed in very high importance. That is why the younger relatives, usually the children of the deceased, are the ones who usually organise the funeral and send the deceased off, as it is seen to be a dutiful act of filial piety. In some very traditional funerals, young people who pass away may not have any funeral rites performed for them, because their parents and elders believe that older persons should not be offering respect to younger persons.
However, these traditions are definitely loosening up today. Other age-related traditions involve the order in which the family gathers around the casket, and their formation during processions – typically, the eldest son leads the process.
2. Don’t be surprised to see people playing card games
You might have come across wakes where guests are found playing card games well into the night. To those unfamiliar with the culture, it might seem inappropriate that people are ‘having fun’ at a funeral. However, there is actually a more practical reason for this. These activities help the family stay awake throughout the night as they keep vigil. It is a way of keeping the departed soul company and at the same time, to guard against anything untoward that may happen to the casket.
3. Funerals are usually held for 3, 5, or 7 days
Why the odd number? In Chinese culture, even numbers are typically considered ‘lucky’ or celebratory numbers (perhaps, with the exception of the number 4). As funerals are not a cause for celebration, odd numbers are deemed more appropriate.
The number of days for the wake is up to the family to decide, and may depend on the budget they have available, or the number of guests they expect. In Buddhist traditions, weekly prayers continue to be offered up to 49 days after the funeral. As they believe that the departed will be reincarnated within 49 days, these prayers are to facilitate the smooth journey for the deceased’s afterlife.
4. White is the go-to colour
While monochrome and muted colours are generally acceptable at funerals, white is by far the safest colour for a funeral, as it is the colour of mourning. Not only does this apply to the clothes worn, but also in the decor and peripherals.
Guests are expected to gift a small token offering to the family at a wake – this is known as ‘bai jin’, or ‘white gold’. Most people will place the cash in a white envelope. When gifting condolence wreaths, white is also the most commonly chosen colour for flowers.
Getting to know the values and traditions behind a culture is always a fascinating eye-opener, and it’s intriguing to see what communities hold so dear, even in the face of the mortality of life.
You can worry less about the nitty-gritty details when you engage the help of a funeral company. Buddhist Funeral Service helps grieving families through the funeral arrangement process, and offers comprehensive Buddhist casket services that align with their preferred values, practices, and traditions.