Most funerals follow a fairly predictable series of events. Wearing conservative, dark clothing, sending flowers and respecting family wishes are all commonplace. But when it comes to Southern funerals, you can expect to see some distinct traditions and practices that set them apart.
So much food
The second it’s announced that someone in your family has passed away, expect people to be coming by non-stop with more food than you could ever consume. Most of it will be in the form of a casserole or freezer-friendly meal. Fried chicken, deviled eggs and pies are also common. In western Mississippi, there’s a tradition of giving Tomato Aspic, a circular, gelatinous dish.
Respecting the procession
You’ll see this in other parts of the country as well, but Southerners take it seriously. When a funeral procession of cars is following the hearse to the cemetery, all other cars on the road pull to the side until the procession has passed. This is common courtesy (and sometimes the law) to honor the grieving friends and family members of the diseased. It’s a sign of respect.
A public affair
Forget about the funerals that include just immediate family and friends. In the South, it’s not uncommon to have people from all over the community show up at the memorial and wake. Funerals are a public event of sorts, and people attend them often, even for those whom they hardly knew.
Second lines are a New Orleans tradition that still take place when a popular figure from the community or a musician passes away. You may have heard of second lines for weddings, and this is essentially the same thing. The community will grab their brass instruments and play music in a procession line, following the hearse on the way to the cemetery.
Sending flower arrangements isn’t specific to just the South, but the scale of the arrangements certainly are. Southern funerals can get very personalized also, so you’ll often find arrangements that pay tribute to the person who has passed. You’ll often see regional flowers like camellia blooms, abelia and magnolia leaves.
You’ll likely never attend a church memorial that lasts less than a couple of hours. The minister is going to do a full service, and there will be a spirited sermon aimed at getting you to come to church more often.
Sitting up with the dead
There’s also a rarely practiced, but distinctly Southern, long-standing custom referred to as ‘sitting up’ with the dead. After a loved one has passed, the body remains in the home and is never left alone. At least one family member or friend sits awake with the body at all times until they are buried.