Funeral traditions can differ greatly between different continents, cultures, ethnic groups and religions. Some time ago, our funeral chapel had the experience of serving the large extended family of a unique and mysterious sect of society – Gypsy Travelers.
The oldest and traditional funeral rites of Gypsies included dressing the deceased in the finest of clothing and jewelry, burning the remaining possessions of the deceased, the covering of mirrors, the lighting of candles and celebrations that would go on for several days. (Source: http://www.gypsyjib.com/page/Romany+Traditions+%26+Culture)
While the funeral traditions for “Western” Gypsies in this country have changed over time, the importance of family, uniting as a family and the desire to give their loved ones the best funeral possible as a good send off on their next journey remains strongly rooted in their core values.
The Schoedinger staff was told by many about the melding of the Western Travelers and the Gypsy cultures and the family’s belief in the importance of keeping traditions alive in an ethnic group that has been shunned by modern society.
Our staff recalls observing these time honored traditions:
In homage to their loved one and to the centuries of their secretive culture, several hundreds of Gypsies gathered over the two days for a very festive funeral. There was feasting on vast amounts of foods. Family members grilled steaks, shrimp and pork chops in the parking lot of the chapel. The visitation hours lasted most of the day. As the evening began, music and dancing were added to the celebration.
Mourners of the gentlemen adorned his casket in sheer fabric. Fine china and wine for a symbolic feast were placed nearby. They built a trellis for his journey to heaven. This tradition is meant to ease his transition into heaven, a wedding, of sorts, to God.
The 56-year-old man was buried in a fine suit. All of his clothing, including his leather shoes were of designer brand because, as we were told, “it had to be the best” for the two days of mourning over an open casket. Placed inside the casket, to be buried with him, were some of his favorite mementos and items that any modern man might need in the afterlife.
The floral arrangements were abundant and some unique arrangements were over-the-top – arrangements shaped like an iphone, an open Bible, a cross and a Budweiser Beer bottle.
Representatives from Gypsy families from all over the United States flocked to the funeral chapel and the graveside service. Gypsies have a deep spiritual belief they are from the earth and so to the earth they should be returned, which is why a traditional burial was selected. The family remained for a time at the cemetery for further celebration.
Our staff was told many times that in their beliefs, when a person goes on to heaven, it is a new beginning. This is why they eat, drink and celebrate! Their funeral celebrations are designed to be a reflection of the joy that is experienced in heaven.
Their way, the Gypsy Way, is indeed a grand tradition.
Visit www.schoedinger.com/what-we-do to learn how we help create funerals as unique as your life.
Julie is the Director of Community Relations at Schoedinger Funeral Service.