Funeral rites and rituals have certainly changed over the years, but many modern funeral traditions do trace back to the Colonial era. Funerals were very large, public events at this time, and the Colonial Americans paid a lot of attention to death and the rituals surrounding it. Here are five intriguing facts about Colonial funeral rites.
Pallbearers carried the casket a long distance.
Today, pallbearers sometimes carry the casket a short distance to the grave site, but during Colonial times, pallbearing was a much larger commitment as it involved carrying the casket all of the way from the funeral service to the grave. Sometimes they would set the casket down to rest for a few minutes. Younger men would hold the poles that supported the casket itself, while older men carried the drape that covered the casket.
Family members wore commemorative rings.
When a loved one passed, their family members would often create commemorative rings and distribute them to friends, the minister, and other extended family. Sayings such as "Death Conquers All" were sometimes engraved into the rings, which the recipients would wear and then pass down to their children.
Drinking was prevalent.
Attending a funeral completely sober was not a common occurrence during Colonial times. It was customary for visitors to visit the body and then move on to a table where they'd be served the liquor of their choice. This practice slowly petered out throughout the 1800s, but light drinking at funerals is something that has slowly come back into vogue.
Decorations and pictures were draped in black.
Black is still seen as the color of mourning, and funeral goers often still drape themselves in black to show respect for the deceased. But Colonial Americans took black draping even more seriously. They covered pictures and other decorations in their home with black cloth for up to a year after a loved one's passing.
Funerals were held at home.
Funerals were usually held in the home of the deceased rather than in a church. Similarly, many families had a "family burying ground" rather than placing their loved ones in a public cemetery. The funeral itself was often a public event, whereas the burial was more private.
Some of these Colonial funeral rites developed into modern traditions, while others faded away. One thing remains true: funerals are a time to honor a loved one's life, not just mourn their loss.