1. Show the Spirits You Have Money to Burn
China has some theatrical ways of bidding their loved ones goodbye, but here are a couple that stand out. One funeral tradition has family members hiring performers to attract a larger number of mourners to the event, because a larger turnout conveys respect and status. We like it as an opportunity to personalize a funeral service with whatever type of “performance” the honoree would have enjoyed. Boy Band? Magician? Pole Dancing Champion?
Another age-old Chinese tradition says that you can promote a prosperous afterlife for your ancestors by burning money and making offerings at their graves. (Note: Check with authorities before burning anything!) Both these unique funeral traditions—and the hoped-for eternal status and prosperity they represent—are seen as badges of honor for the person who is being celebrated.
2. Feast on Their Favorite Foods
Here’s one funeral tradition that we may have to insist on for our own farewellings. In many Buddhist traditions, friends and family gather 49 days after the death of a loved one to celebrate their life by feasting on the foods that person really loved. (Does that include drinks too? If so, “fountains of rosé,” yes please!) In Jamaica, they have a similar celebration, but they often celebrate at the nine-day mark. Both traditions are based on the idea that it is time to celebrate because the soul is at peace or has moved on, and their favorite dishes will give their soul a delicious and delightful send off. Also, while you’re eating all that good food, you can share moments, memories and a sense of shared community.
3. Personalize a One-of-a-Kind Casket
In Ghana the trend of elaborately personalized caskets was started around 60 years ago by talented craftsmen as a way to capture the spirit of the departed and how they lived. Carpenters have built one-of-a-kind caskets in the shape of fish, wine bottles, shoes, animals and much more. A simpler way to take this inspiration and personalize a funeral (or “farewelling”) is to decorate the casket, inside and/or out. Imagine a simple cardboard casket papered with newsprint or hand-lettered with quotes for an environmentally conscious writer. Or a casket draped with flowering vines for an avid gardener, or even decorated with film posters if the honoree was a movie buff.
4. Got Jazz?
New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, is well known for images of dancing in the streets, whether it’s the loud and colorful Mardi Gras parades, or the emotion-soaked jazz funeral processions during which they sing and dance to honor the departed souls of their loved ones. The processions are often led by a big horn-heavy marching band which plays mournful dirges on the way to the burial, then shifts to upbeat jazz and blues tunes, prompting mourners to let loose and celebrate with passion and positivity.
5. Create a Powerful Moment with a Drumming Circle
According to Native American tradition, drum vibrations awaken the spirits of the land and help with healing. At traditional Native American funeral drumming circles, people take turns standing in the middle of the circle, reciting eulogies or prayers, singing or chanting. We think there’s something about repetitive rhythm and the shared experience of powerful sound that’s both grounding and spiritual—a shared ritual with a side of personal catharsis! Even better: Drumming circles are free-form by nature, so you can design yours to feel right for the farewelling you’re planning, and even young children can participate.