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Puerto Rican Funeral Traditions, Customs, and Beliefs

Puerto Rican funeral traditions and customs are deeply rooted in the cultural beliefs of the island. These rituals have been passed down for generations and reflect a reverence for life, death and spirituality. Death is seen as a natural part of life that should be honored with respect and tradition. Understanding these practices can help families organizing or preparing to attend a funeral in Puerto Rico or a Puerto Rican funeral in the U.S.

Puerto Rican beliefs about death

Puerto Ricans have a unique view of death and its place in life. Death is seen as an inevitable part of the cycle of life, something to be accepted and respected rather than feared. They believe that when someone dies, their spirit lives on, and it's important for them to honor the deceased by paying respects at funeral ceremonies. It's also believed that a person's life will be remembered fondly and their death celebrated as the beginning of a new journey.

A Puerto Rican funeral is a time for remembering the life of a loved one, where grief, joy (for the deceased's soul going up to heaven), and other emotions are all encouraged and accepted. During the funeral, family members and close friends will often share stories about the deceased to honor their memory. Puerto Ricans also believe that after death, a person’s spirit can watch over them from heaven and protect them from harm.

Puerto Ricans believe that even after death, the dead will know if the living are still honoring and remembering their life. This is partly honored by lighting candles for seven days after the death of a loved one to let them know that you are thinking about them.

Puerto Rican funerals, traditions, and customs

When a death occurs, preparations for the funeral begin immediately. The order of service typically involves a wake, a funeral service, and a prayer period that those close to the deceased practice.

The wake

A wake is typically held the night before the funeral and is sometimes even held all-night. Attendees are welcome to stay as long or as short as they'd like. At the wake, friends and family will gather to pay their respects to the deceased. This is a time for people to share stories about the departed, light candles in their honor, and pray for them.

The funeral service

Funeral services typically follow Christian traditions, since 69% of the population of Puerto Rico identifies as Christian. The funeral service usually takes place at a church and is attended by family members and friends. The service includes prayers, readings from scripture, and music in honor of the deceased. Mourners may also take photos of the deceased as a part of documenting their life's history.

Standing funerals

Standing funerals are growing in popularity at Puerto Rican funeral services, which involve embalming the deceased and having them attend their own funeral. This practice is also referred to as "extreme embalming" and involves embalming the deceased and posing them in a way that mirrors what they did in life. This unique tradition can also sometimes only take place during the viewing, instead of having the body in a casket.

Day of the dead

Day of the Dead is another tradition that Puerto Ricans celebrate to honor their dead. This day is typically celebrated on November 1st and 2nd and involves gathering with family, singing traditional songs, eating special foods, and offering prayers in memory of those who have passed away.

What do you wear to a Puerto Rican funeral?

Mourners traditionally wear dark colors to Puerto Rican funerals, such as black or navy blue. Women may also wear headscarves or veils, depending on their own beliefs and comfortability.

Should I bring flowers to a Puerto Rican funeral?

Bringing flowers to a Puerto Rican funeral is not mandatory, but it's a nice gesture and is generally appreciated by the family of the deceased. Flowers are typically placed on or around the casket of the deceased during the funeral service.

Are there other gifts I should bring to a Puerto Rican funeral?

In addition to flowers, mourners may also bring other gifts to the funeral such as food or desserts that are traditional in Puerto Rican culture. Other popular items to bring include religious artifacts and candles. You can also bring an item from the patron saint of the deceased's hometown by asking which patron saint their town honored (each town in Puerto Rico has a patron saint).

Can Puerto Ricans be cremated?

Yes, cremation is a possible method of disposition in Puerto Rico, even though it was traditionally discouraged. Puerto Ricans used to believe cremating a body could prevent the soul's entry into heaven; this belief has since changed and now modern Puerto Ricans opt for cremation as a method of disposition.

The passing of a loved one can be a difficult time, but the meaningful funeral customs of Puerto Rican culture can provide comfort and peace. Knowing these traditions is important for those attending a funeral in Puerto Rico or a Puerto Rican funeral in the U.S. You can honor the life of your loved one with respect and dignity through these cherished practices.

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Last updated November 30, 2022
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