Every culture has their own unique customs and traditions when it comes to major life events and celebrations. A funeral is no exception to this rule. No matter where you live in the world, you are certain to find that the people there have their own expectations about how a funeral should be handled. It is important to understand these traditions so that you can better respect and acknowledge the last wishes of a loved one who may have come from a different upbringing and culture.
The Portuguese people have an interesting and complex history but because most follow Catholicism, their funerary customs tend to mirror the majority of those found in North America. However, there are some differences that you may want to note so for more insight on how the Portuguese handle their funeral traditions, keep reading...
The majority of the people in Portugal are devout Catholics and follow the traditions of the church. In some cities, they toll the church bells in honour of the deceased loved one. You will encounter many of the same Catholic traditions found around the world: songs and prayers, readings from the Bible, and the congregation going up the aisle to pay their respects at the casket.
One difference you may see is that an extremely large number of people attend the service. A Portuguese funeral is often a very big deal and traditionally, everyone who was connected to the person comes to pay their last respects, including distant relatives.
In addition to the many people who gather at the church for the official service, many families institute a sort of "open door policy" at the deceased one’s home. The door of the house remains open so that all family members and friends can easily enter to mourn alongside their close family members.
In the United States and Canada, it is customary to wear black or other dark colours to the funeral service. Things are done a little differently in the Portuguese culture. Family members will wear black to physically represent the loss they feel as soon as their loved one passes. A widow may choose to wear black for the rest of her life while other family members will also wear black clothes for an extended period of time. If you were close to the deceased, then you will be expected to wear black for a longer period of time.
Many North Americans who attend Portuguese funerals are surprised to find that the services tend to be more on the casual side. While many people here are accustomed to dressing smartly for a service, it is not uncommon to find grieving family members in jeans and sweaters as opposed to dress slacks and polished leather shoes.
The funerals in Portugal often happen much faster than those found in America or Canada. When someone passes away, the funeral is often held within the next two days. They may be buried or cremated, but many families opt for some sort of wake with an open coffin so that friends and family have an opportunity to say their final goodbyes. However, because the services occur so quickly, sometimes they happen before some relatives are even made aware of the passing.
Understanding what you can expect from a Portuguese funeral can help you come prepared to the next funeral you attend. While they are often casual affairs, you should check with family members to see what might be expected of you as many Portuguese individuals who have moved to North America are an interesting blend of the two cultures.