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Italian Funeral Traditions, Customs, and Beliefs

Italian funeral traditions reflect the strong bond between family and faith in Italian culture. Italians have a deep respect for death and traditions. From funeral attire to songs, there are many unique aspects that make up Italian funerals.

What do Italians believe about death and dying?

In Italy, death's foundation is found in Roman Catholicism, which teaches that death is a passage to a greater life. Italians traditionally view death as a journey into heaven, hell, or purgatory. Many Italians hold celebrations for their patron saints and those they've lost on days such as Day of the Dead and All Saints' Day.

Death in Italian culture is also seen as a time of gathering, with family members and friends coming together to pay their respects. Italians believe that it's important to remember the deceased in prayer and by telling stories about them.

What happens at a funeral in Italy?

Italian funerals are traditionally expensive affairs that are meant to take every effort to stop the person's soul from attempting to return to the living. Rituals to avoid this from happening included sprinkling salt on the deceased and around the home. Sprinkling salt in this manner is thought to prevent evil from entering into the deceased's body post-mortem and into the home of the family.

In Italy, the community will join in the remembrance and funeral of someone who has passed away. Obituaries are uncommon and are replaced by notices posted in the town. Closed caskets are rare as Italians prefer to be able to see and acknowledge the body of their dead. This includes holding the deceased's hand or placing their hand on the deceased's body.

Attendees will typically pay their respects to the deceased, participate in a brief mass or hearing, and then move to a gathering place for refreshments.

Italian funerals in the United States

Italian funerals in the United States generally follow the rituals involved with death in the Roman Catholic church. This typically means the order of service includes the following:

  1. A visitation or a wake. This is a time for friends and family to pay their respects by viewing the body and offering condolences.
  2. A vigil. Loved ones, friends, family, and community are invited to a vigil to pray for the soul of the deceased. 3.A funeral mass or service. This is a solemn occasion in which family and friends can pay tribute to the life of the deceased. Rosary is typically practiced during this time to ensure the deceased has a safe journey to the afterlife.
  3. A few songs or hymns. Music can be played during the service, though prayers or hymns are more likely to take place if the service is more traditional. Italian funeral songs may include popular songs such as “Il Signore è il mio Pastore”, “Ave Maria”, and “A Mio Padre”, among others.
  4. A graveside service. This is a final farewell to the deceased, allowing loved ones to grieve and move towards closure.
  5. A reception. This is a time for families and friends to gather, share stories, and celebrate the life of the deceased. Food and drinks are typically served at these gatherings.

Italian funeral traditions do not typically include joyous celebrations of life or happier attitudes during the time of the funeral. Italians are typically openly grieving at a funeral -- it isn't considered a time to celebrate or remember “the good times" with the deceased.

What do you wear to an Italian funeral?

Italians typically dress in dark, modest attire for a funeral. Black is the preferred color of clothing to show respect for the deceased, but navy blue and gray are also acceptable. It is considered disrespectful to wear overly flashy or bright colors when attending a funeral in Italy. Wearing casual attire instead of modest and classy attire to an Italian funeral can be taken as a sign of disrespect and is generally not advised.

Should I send flowers to an Italian funeral?

Flowers are an important part of Italian funerals, as they symbolize beauty and life after death. Sending a floral arrangement to the family of the deceased is a traditional way of expressing your condolences. The most common flowers sent to Italian funerals are lilies, roses, and daisies.

Send flowers

Can I send a sympathy gift instead of flowers?

Sending a sympathy gift is also an appropriate way to show your love and support. Gifts can range from food items such as Italian pastries, fruit baskets, or wine; to prayer books, crosses, rosaries, candles, cash donations, or other types of sympathy gifts. These are all traditional and respectful items to send in lieu of flowers.

Send a sympathy gift

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Last updated December 5, 2022
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