Knowing how to maneuver in another country can be rather difficult, especially when it comes to touchy subjects such as funerals. Every country has their own customs and traditions for celebrating the life of a loved one. The people of Ukraine, particularly those who adhere to the Orthodox Christian Church, have quite an extensive list of customs that you should familiarize yourself with.
If you have to attend a funeral for a Ukrainian loved one, be prepared to adhere to their rules and traditions. Here are just a few of the things you should know before you head out to say your last respects:
According to the Orthodox services that many Ukrainians use for their funerals, people believe that the soul stays near the body for three days following the death. Family members and friends come to say their final goodbyes alongside an open casket on these three special days. They may leave small gifts inside of the casket when they come to visit like coins, baked goods, and other small mementos.
Family and friends can bring flowers to the wake, but they should only bring an even number of flowers. This sets the funeral apart from other occasions when Ukrainians expect well-wishers to give an odd number of flowers.
Many people believe that the body should never be left alone in the dark. This is why they typically plan to have visitors come throughout the night. There may be a midnight dinner followed by a vigil for the rest of the night until more mourners come to pay their respects in the morning.
When you attend the funeral, you should have a thorough understanding of what to bring and how to behave in the presence of the body. It is often expected that you bring flowers to the funeral service, but they should, as previously mentioned, be brought in even numbers.
Near the flowers, you will notice that a small bowl of water and a towel have been left as an offering for the deceased loved one. It is believed that the deceased individual drinks the water from the bowl and uses the towel to wash away tears. As such, the funeral-goers abstain from drinking water in the funeral home or church where the service takes place. They cannot consume water again until they are away from the presence of the body.
In Ukrainian Orthodox tradition, the community comes together to celebrate the life of their loved one at set times following the death. They will traditionally hold five feasts to honour a deceased loved one. The first is held on the third day after death, the second on the ninth day, and the third on the fortieth day after the death. The two additional feasts are celebrated at the six-month and one-year mark following the death.
During these feasts, Ukrainians tend to eat traditional foods such as kolach and koliva. Kolach is a fruit-filled pastry whereas koliva is a special cake made for funerals from boiled wheat and honey.
Directly after the Easter holidays, the people of Ukraine celebrate Provody to remember and honour the dead. Families head to the gravesites to say another round of final goodbyes to their loved ones and celebrate their lives. This is done to put the spirits of the deceased at rest again so that they can continue to enjoy their afterlife in peace. Following the trip to the graveside, most people will share in another feast to honour their loved ones.
When it comes to Ukrainian customs and even Catholic funerals, there are some significant differences between their traditions and those found in North America. It is important to understand the cultural distinctions if you plan to travel or support a Ukrainian loved one who many be attending a funeral. Keep some of these rich traditions in mind next time you think about customary funeral practices around the world.