Death Customs


Throughout human existence has been the need to deal with the death of friends and loved ones. Different cultures have practiced many different types of death customs and burials. Even within the same country or culture there can be many varied rituals. Death customs are influence by religion, spiritual beliefs, lack of spiritual beliefs, the wishes of the deceased (if left in a will or preplanned funeral arrangement), cultural traditions, family values, acceptable social practices and so much more. There is no way I could adequately cover this topic in one blog post so I will simply point Dewey Hop readers to the latest books I’ve encountered on my read through the Fulton County Public Library.

The first book I encountered on this topic is:

What a Way to Go

Since I can’t write a better summary, I’ve borrowed some summaries:

  • Baker & Taylor
    An entertaining, yet respectful, documentary of the most extraordinary lives and amazing funerals of two dozen twentieth-century icons from politics, art, and pop culture, including Jim Henson, Babe Ruth, Elvis Presley, Eva Peron, and the Ayatollah Khomeini, is filled with stunning photographs and riveting information. Original.
  • Grand Central Pub
    A&E Biography meets Tales from the Crypt in this fun but respectful survey of the amazing lives and astonishing funerals of two dozen twentieth-century icons from politics, art, and pop culture. In more than 50 rare photographs and thoroughly researched profiles, What a Way to Go showcases all the colorful details of each subject’s death, funeral service, and burial. From Muppet creator Jim Henson’s upbeat service, attended by Big Bird, to Babe Ruth lying in state at Yankee Stadium as vendors sold hot dogs to waiting mourners–it’s all here, the moving and the macabre. JFK, Notorious B.I.G., Elvis Presley, Chairman Mao, Eva Peron, the Ayatollah Khomeini, and many more find fitting tribute in this compulsively readable, visually lavish, richly entertaining celebration of our enduring fascination with the famous and the strange pageantry of their demise.

And I’ve also done the same thing for this book:

Reimagining Death

“For all those seeking to reclaim their innate and legal right to care for their own dead, create home funeral vigils, and choose greener after-death care options that are less toxic and more sustainable for the earth More natural after-death care options are transforming the paradigm of the existing funeral industry, helping families and communities recover their instinctive capacity to care for a loved one after death and do so in creative, nourishing, and healing ways. In reclaiming these practices and creating new, innovative options, we are greening the gateway of death and returning home to ourselves, our bodies, and the earth. Lucinda Herring reminds us of the sacredness of death itself; her compelling stories, poetry, and guidance come from years of experience as a home funeral/green burial consultant and licensed funeral director dedicated to more natural and healing death practices. In Reimagining Death she shares with readers her experience caring for her own mother after death. Through storytelling and resources Herring also reveals to families the gifts of partnering with nature, home funeral vigils, sacred care at death, conscious dying (through the story of a Death with Dignity with accompanying photos of one man’s planned death and after-death care), bringing laughter and a greater lightness of being to death, natural burials, and emerging eco-conscious dispositions. A valuable resource in planning for all deaths in all circumstances (with a chapter on what to do when a death occurs outside of the home), this book also guides readers on how to create an advance after-death care directive”– Provided by publisher.
“”For all those seeking to reclaim their innate and legal right to care for their own dead, create home funeral vigils, and choose greener after-death care options that are less toxic and more sustainable for the earth”–Provided by publisher”– Provided by publisher
Dealing with the death of a loved one is a very personal experience and is unique to every individual and family.  If you dealt with a funeral, celebration of life, memorial and would like to share your experience please feel free to do so in the comments below.
Have you ever considered an alternative to the customary funeral arrangements for yourself or a loved one? Have you ever been to an after death service that was unique in some way?

Wedding Gowns

Trying on Wedding Gowns

One of the most important decisions that a bride to be has to make is what to wear. The wedding dress should reflect the bride’s personality, be flattering to her figure, and make her look and feel beautiful when she wears it. The search for the perfect dress can be overwhelming and fun all at the same time.

Like other fashions wedding attire/gowns have changed through the years. In ancient Egypt brides wore a special headdress and a new tunic gifted to her from her parents. The tunic had a big knot tied into it (which might account for the expression of a couple “tying the knot”) which only the groom was allowed to untie. In medieval times brides wore bright colors which were fashionable at the time. It wasn’t until the 1820’s that the wedding gown as we would recognize it today first appeared. When white wedding gowns were introduced some brides still chose to wear brightly colored apparel. The popularity of the white wedding gown increased when Queen Victoria was married in 1840 in a white gown. Styles, designs, details, and accessories change throughout the years, but the white gown remains the most popular choice of brides even today.

In many cultures marriages have been arranged. The bride and groom may have been strangers or mere acquaintances on their wedding day. These marriages were usually contractual and had little to do with love. Marriage was seen as a way for one to advance family values and position in society. Because the bride was literally representing her family in a public contract, much emphasis was placed on her appearance. This is why today the bride is the focal point of the wedding and elegantly dressed with attention to every small detail.

Bridal Gowns

Today the wedding gown will help the bride and groom create a lifetime of memories. It will be the subject of many photographs as the couple poses for their wedding pictures together, the bride will be photographed alone in her dress, and the dress may even be photographed by itself before the wedding.  The groom usually hasn’t seen the wedding gown or his bride in it until she appears to walk down the aisle. The bride will long remember the groom’s reaction when he sees her in her wedding gown for the first time.

Bridal Gown 2

For this post I have relied heavily on these books:

Bridal Style The Wedding DressThe Wedding Gown Book

The above books are adult picture books but also include fascinating history of how wedding attire / gowns have changed through the ages.

Other adult picture books I checked out are:

Accessorizing the BrideThe Bride A Celebration

Did you /will you choose a formal wedding gown for your wedding? Do you favor a particular style of wedding gown?

Wedding Customs & Traditions

Wedding Traditions

(Image Credit: Google)

After the engagement and wedding plans, comes the bridal shower, bachelor party, rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, and the actual wedding! There are many customs and traditions surrounding all of these aspects of the engagement and wedding. Unfortunately I won’t be able to cover all of them in depth in one post.

In rural America (and Europe) extended family and friends from the community all gave gifts to help the couple set up their home. Around the turn of the century these traditional ties began to break down. Though traditional ties had been lessening to provide these thoughtful gifts, the engaged woman’s friends stepped in to “shower” the bride-to be. This practice evolved into a type of party in which friends would buy small items needed to start a household that would have been really expensive if they all had to be bought at once.

The bachelor party is supposed to be the groom’s last night with his friends as a single man. The bachelor party is often hosted by the best man, but the groomsmen may also all plan it together. Today it is even acceptable for the groom to plan and host this party himself. When the groom hosts the party himself he will often distribute small gifts to his groomsmen and finalize responsibilities and last minute plans. The groom will also traditionally make a toast to his bride. In older times, the groom would make a toast to the bride and then smash his glass. Each of the groomsmen would, in turn also toast the bride and smash their glasses. It was believed that a glass used to toast the bride should never be used for a less worthy purpose. Smashing the glasses made sure the glass had fulfilled it’s highest purpose.

Some couples also choose to have bridesmaid party as well. The bride may distribute gifts to her bridesmaids at this time. The bride may also discuss any last minute plans or details. This party, though, is to focus on the bridesmaids and thank them for their involvement in the wedding.

The wedding rehearsal usually happens a few days before the wedding and is just what it sounds like it is. It is a time for all the participants to practice their movements and positions. It is usually pretty light hearted and fun for all involved. Traditionally there will be a rehearsal dinner following the rehearsal. The rehearsal dinner is a time for bonding as well as a time to discuss last minute details. Often this dinner is when gifts to the wedding party are distributed, especially if couples have omitted the bachelor’s party and/or bridesmaid party.

Books I’ve relied on heavily for this post are:

Happy is the Bride

Weddings A Celebration

What traditional aspects were (or will be) included in your wedding plans? Did you add or omit any of the traditional steps to getting married?


Proposals, Wedding Vows, and Customs

Creative Proposal

(Image credit:

Moving right along in the 390’s I’ve landed in an interesting section called Customs of life cycle & domestic life. This is a sweet and tender section of the library with much of it pertaining to proposals, wedding vows, and marriage customs. I’ve had a lot of fun reading about how creative people can be with their proposals and vows. (Be sure to check out the link above!)  If you are a romantic at heart, you won’t want to miss The World’s Greatest Proposals by Fred Cuellar.

The World's Greatest Proposals

This book contains real life accounts of the ways in which people became engaged. I really don’t want to give these stories away, so I highly encourage those of you who are interested to read this book.  Each story or “chapter” is only about 2-3 pages long and you will find many creative proposals (as well as traditional ones) within it’s pages.

Once engaged, couples will soon begin to work on their wedding plans. These plans can be as varied as the couples themselves. In the United States we seem to have assimilated customs from many cultures around the world. Couples will want to take a close look at what they do and do not want included in their unique wedding ceremony. To figure out what to include in a wedding, couples might want to examine a little history of weddings as well as some traditions.

In Roman society the purpose of marriage was to form families by having legally conceived children. Those who married and had children were seen as strengthening the honor of the family and escalating the family’s ability to contribute to the state. Marrying, therefore, was a way to show that one was stable and had influence in society. Emperor Augustus set penalties for men who remained single too long.

In the early Anglo-Saxon weddings (primarily in Wales and England) weddings were an informal ceremony with only the families present. The couple made vows of commitment to each other. The vows and following sexual relationship gave legitimacy to the marriage and legalized it. People didn’t conduct vows in a church until the 1500’s and then it wasn’t mandatory to be married in a church.

Formal state involvement in a wedding ceremony didn’t begin until 1653 when the Civil Marriage Act passed by the Puritans under Cromwell. After the passage of this Act, a civil ceremony before a justice of the peace was required. Before this act, however the bride’s father would lead a public ceremony called a “bewedding.” At the bewedding ceremony the groom and his entire family pledged to look after the bride. This pledge was made to the bride’s parents.

By 1753 the Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act stated that all weddings had to take place in a Jewish Synagogue, Church of England, or a Quaker meeting to be considered legally legitimate. Many objected to this Act and chose to elope (a tradition that continues).

In ancient China marriages were arranged by the parents of the bride and groom. Parents exchanged their credentials with each other as a sign of their intent to have their children marry each other. Gifts exchanged between the bride’s and groom’s families represented:

  1. that the groom’s family acknowledged the parents’ efforts in raising the bride and
  2. the agreement that the groom has now formally been pledged the bride’s hand in marriage by the parents. (p. 35, A World of Ways to Say “I Do” by Benshea & Benshea)

The exchanging of gifts between the bride’s and groom’s families would continue for a year or two until their children were old enough to marry. Gifts from the groom’s family to the bride’s family included money, tea, bridal cakes, sweetmeats, and wine.

The bride’s family would take the bridal cakes they received and give them to the groom’s family and friends and the cakes also served as the wedding invitation. The order in which the bridal cakes were given was important since those who were given the cakes first were those family and friends closest to the couple. Anyone who received a bridal cake was also expected to give a wedding gift to the bride’s parents as a token of congratulations.

The traditional Chinese wedding ceremony was one in which the bride and groom were taken to the family alter to pay respects to the heaven and earth, their family ancestors, and the kitchen god. Tea with two lotus seeds or two red dates in it was offered to the groom’s parents.  Lotus seeds and two red dates are symbolic since in Chinese the words lotus and year, seed and child, and date and early are all homophones. It was believed that these items in the tea would help the couple to produce children early in the their marriage and every year as well as grandchildren for the parents. The tea was sweet which was a symbolic wish for sweet relations between the bride and her new family. To complete the ceremony the bride and groom bowed to each other and drank wine from the same goblet. Molded sugar in the shape of a rooster might also be eaten to symbolize trustworthiness – a Chinese astrological belief.  After the ceremony there was  a wedding dinner where the newly married Chinese couple received “lucky money” in red envelopes. In Chinese culture red and gold are colors believed to represent happiness and wealth. Wedding invitations (now), decorations, and gifts are all wrapped in red and firecrackers are set off to scare evil spirits away.

In Africa there are many assorted cultural wedding traditions dating back thousands of years depending on the area of Africa one is from. In some areas it is customary to “kidnap” the bride.” Family must be involved in African weddings for the weddings to be considered legitimate. African brides may wear a veil of braided hair for modesty.  In Kenya the bride and groom are literally bound together with a leather strap during the wedding. Other regions may do the same thing using braided grasses.

During the years of slavery in the US, African-American bride and grooms were not allowed to legally marry. They reached back into traditions from Africa and held their own types of weddings which were recognized by other slaves but not necessarily by the plantation owner. One famous ritual is called “jumping the broom.” This ritual was performed by having the oldest person in the slave community place a broom across the threshold of the couple’s new home and having the couple jump over it and into their home. This practice was used to symbolize a new beginning in the couples lives.

The tradition of jumping the broom is sometimes still used during African-American weddings today. The “broom” can range from twigs, rags, and bound cowrie shells and ribbons, and other beautiful decorations. I have seen pictures of actual brooms decorated in beautiful fashion Many of the “brooms” will be kept as works of art for the couple’s home after the wedding. During the ceremony the broom may be placed either before or behind the altar or a church elder may hold it up. Traditional African clothing is bright and vibrant. African-American grooms may wear a tuxedo including a vest made out of African material. The bride may wear jewelry featuring cowrie shells or her gown or headpiece may be trimmed with cowrie shells to symbolize fertility.

In most American weddings the bride is “given away.’  In the past the bride was considered to belong to her father. Thus the father had to actually give her away to transfer responsibility for her to the groom. During this time period, the groom may also have been given a pair of the bride’s shoes which represented that he was now responsible for meeting her needs and taking care of her.  Traditionally the bride stands to the left of the groom. This is because way back in history brides were often kidnapped. This may have been a real or a symbolic kidnapping depending on the time and culture. The groom held the bride with his left arm, leaving his right arm, or sword arm, available to fight off any other suitors. During the kidnapping if the groom needed assistance he would ask for help from his best friend which led to the tradition of having a best man with the groom during the wedding.

Just about every bride to be hears the phrase, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” Each part of this phrase actually has meaning.  Something old is about the bride bringing something from her old life into her new life representing continuity. Something new represents that the bride is accepting her new life with the groom. Something borrowed should be borrowed from someone the bride is close to who has a happy marriage (perhaps her mother) and represents both marital happiness and the idea that all of us are part of a larger family and/or community. Something blue represents love, fidelity, and purity. Superstition says that if the bride brings something blue on her honeymoon she will have good luck and if the bride gives her love a penny before the marriage ceremony they will always have money.

The custom of exchanging wedding rings is from ancient Egypt. The rings are circular and are meant to symbolize a love for eternity with no beginning or end. The fourth finger of the left hand was chosen for the wedding ring because Egyptians and Romans believed that a vein ran from the fourth finger on the left hand straight to the heart. It was also believed that the ring would prevent love from escaping from the heart.

You can read more about the above mentioned wedding practices and traditions in A World of Ways to Say “I Do” by Noah Benshea & Jordan Benshea.

A world of ways to say I do

People can be just as creative about their wedding vows. Many people write their own vows. Some people will use more traditional vows in their marriage ceremonies. There are also mix and match traditional/original vows. Whatever your preference the following books will help you and your beloved to create the perfect vows for your own wedding.

In A World of Ways to Say “I Do” by Noah Benshea & Jordan Benshea wedding customs from all over the world are explored as well as how to go about writing your own vows. Although the book is more in depth than I can be in one post it offers the readers simple steps and then talks them through each step to write their vows. The steps are as follows:

Step 1: Decide whether to Write Your Vows Together or Separately

Step 2: Create a List of Meaningful Words and Phrases

Step 3: Explore Traditional Wedding Vows

Step 4: Decide the Length of Your Vows

Step 5: Write Your Vows

Step 6: Share Time

The Final Step: Take your vows for a test drive

(pp. 3-11)

Many books that discuss different types of wedding vows also include marriage blessings that couples may want to include in their ceremony. Sometimes humor is inserted into either the vows and / or the blessings. Though I won’t be able to cover these types of books in depth, two of this type that I checked out were:

Wedding Vows Loving Vows

Weddings are often as much fun to recall as they are to plan. What made your wedding different from other weddings? Did you write (or do you want to write) your own wedding vows? Have you ever been at a wedding where special blessings were included?