Funeral Wake Fundamentals
A funeral wake is a gathering for a deceased person. Normally, such wakes are held before or shortly after the official funeral proceeding. In most societies including Singapore’s, funeral wakes are announced in the newspaper obituary section. Some families may wish to have the funeral wake be a private event. Yet others choose to grant public access to the occasion. It is important to state this preference clearly in the official obituary announcement. Funeral wakes are a time for people to meet in celebration and recognition of the deceased’s life. They are also a show of solidarity in support of the grieving family. At most funeral wakes the body will be present, although it is not always the case. If the body is present, the casket can be open or closed. This allows wake visitors a final chance to say goodbye.
Funeral Wake in Singapore
Funeral wakes can be held at funeral parlours, hosted at the deceased’s family home, or held at Housing Development Board (HDB) public void decks. If hosted at the home of the deceased, part of the road beyond the house boundaries are usually required. If so, an official Traffic Police (TP) permit must be sought and issued. If the wake venue is the public void deck, it is necessary to get a permit from your local Town Council.
Wake traditions are different from culture to culture. They also depend largely on the family’s religion. In general, funeral wakes timings start from the late afternoon or evening. Wake slots usually last for a good number of hours per day, over a period of up to seven days. Any family intending to extend the wake to beyond oneweek needs to first get approval from the National Environmental Agency (NEA). In comparison with 2 decades ago, nightlong wake vigils are no longer as frequent. Often, close family and friends will be around to help receive guests. In modern times, wakes tend to feature food and drink refreshments. Wakes are an opportunity to console the bereaved family and exchange fond memories of the deceased with all who are present.
Funeral Wake in Chinese Customs and Etiquette
Many traditions around post-death rites and rituals are handed down through the generations. It is important to be aware and sensitive to these practices, because many Singaporeans still actively abide by them even in modern times. Following, here’s a non-comprehensive listing of these traditions. Some are arguably more superstitious than others:
a) Dressing appropriately for a Funeral Wake
To be safe, guests should wear conservative clothing in neutral, subdued colours. White, black, or deep blue are examples of such colours. White in particular, is the official ‘mourning colour’ according to Chinese tradition. Bright, saturated colours including red and yellow are to be avoided, especially at Chinese funerals. This is because they denote happiness, prosperity, and luck.
b) Paying Respects
Simply bowing your head for a few quiet seconds in front of the altar of the deceased is enough to pay respects to the departed one. While bowing, you may want to offer up a quiet prayer, or silently pay tribute and send well-wishes to the deceased. Regardless of religious beliefs, this is considered universally acceptable behaviour.
Some Chinese families burn joss sticks for their recently parted loved one. If it is in your practice, a member of the family will accompany you to the altar and hand you joss sticks for paying respects to the deceased.
c) Comforting the Family
In approaching the mourning family, one would do well to be careful with things said and the manner of saying them. Refrain from asking the family about circumstances surrounding the death if the death was unnatural. Gossiping or discussing this with anyone else at the funeral wake is definitely also not condoned.
Offering up your heartfelt condolences is the best thing to do in any funeral wake situation. Your genuine and sincere support will be of greatest value to grieving immediate family and close friends.
d) How Much to give for Chinese Funeral Wake
It is standard practice for guests to make cash contributions to the bereaving family when paying their respects to the deceased. This is intended to help offset the funeral costs. The Chinese refer to this tradition as offering “white gold”. This label came into being because contributions are conventionally put into white envelopes. “White gold” translates literally into bái jīn or pek kim in dialect.
These contributions can also be directly handed to the deceased’s family. Normally, a family member or close family friend is situated at the front entrance point of the wake. This person’s role is to receive visitors, as well as any donations that come in. At more traditional funeral wakes, there will be a book where contributors may record their name and contribution amount. Nowadays, some wakes have collection boxes set up for visitors to place their contributions into instead.
The amount of pek kim to offer is really up to the guest and not predetermined—it depends on factors like how close you are to the bereaving family. An unspoken rule of thumb in Chinese culture however, associates odd numbers with inauspicious events like death. In line with this, $30 is generally considered the minimum recommended amount to give as pek kim. Generous guests are more than welcome to add more zeros to this figure. Giving money is one way of acknowledging your gratitude for the deceased. Financial stability aside, how much you should give ultimately correlates to the extent of your closeness to the deceased.
e) Snacks and strings
At most Chinese funeral wakes here, it is common that guests will seat themselves at round tables, sharing fond memories of the deceased. Usually, they will also be having packet drinks and snacking off paper plates with peanuts, melon seeds and pieces of red string. These snack plates are quite a Chinese Singaporean wake tradition. Further, these red threads are believed to ward off any “bad luck” that one might encounter while attending the funeral wake. Sometimes visitors are handed a little red packet containing this red string. If you do take one, be sure to dispose of it before reaching home.
Funeral Wake in Singapore Covid-19 phase 3
Along with easing restrictions for major life events, the gathering size limit for wakes and funerals has been increased. Since 4 August 2021, wake and funeral occasions can permit up to 30 persons at any one time. The previous group restriction allowed a maximum of 20 people. Relatives and friends are allowed to come and go at different times over the course of a wake. The revised group size gathering limit hence supports having more than 30 individuals pay their last respects. As long as the number of people physically present does not exceed 30 at any single moment in time.
Trusted Funeral Services Singapore Director
Ang Brothers Funeral Services Singapore has been providing funeral needs for bereaved families for over 50 years.
We strive to allieviate the burden by planning the funeral process smoothly, without putting a financial strain on the deceased families.
Contact us now for a non-obligatory discussion on funeral needs.
This article is written by Enya Lim.