The Asian Funeral

Asians make up five percent of the U.S. population and are expected to increase to nine percent by 2050. The largest ethnic subgroups are Chinese, Filipinos, Indians, Vietnamese, Koreans and Japanese.

Asians span a vast geographical, cultural and religious area and may follow Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Muslim, Christian or other religious practices. Many Asians living in the United States combine their native cultural traditions with Christian funeral practices.

Asian funerals are known for their length, solemn beauty and display of respect for their ancestors, to whom they look for help and guidance. The family plays a key role in shaping the ceremony, as do monks and priests, and each service will reflect the organizers’ unique requests.

An open casket allows for respect to elders, and there is great respect for the body of the deceased. Incense burning often figures prominently throughout the service. Mourners burn incense at the gravesite, and when they come back within a few days to visit the gravesite, they typically burn incense as well as paper money to help their loved one along the journey.

As with most cultural groups, family and friends typically gather for a meal after the service to show respect for the spirit of the deceased and spend time together in remembrance.

Most Asian families – regardless of religion – honor their loved one with up to three full days of visitation, during which they prefer not to move the body. The body may be placed in a special chapel for the duration of the viewing and service. If there are facilities available, the family will stay throughout the viewing period and prepare meals on the premises. If the deceased is Catholic, the rosary will be held in the chapel the night before the service.

Buddhism is Asia’s largest and most widespread religion, crossing virtually all national borders. Most Buddhists cremate and bury the ashes. Many funeral homes provide a witness room where people can view the body entering the crematory, and some even allow close family members to push the button to begin the cremation process.

Asian Catholics still favor the traditional ground burial, and Buddhists who don’t cremate have a graveside service with the ground burial. Many families stay through the entire burial process, throwing dirt until the grave is totally covered and placing flowers on top of the grave. They typically return within the next three days to tamp the grave.

Non-Christian Asians generally favor a very simple grave marker, but Catholics still prefer a larger stone or monument.

Some funeral homes offer the services of a feng shui master to help determine when and how the deceased should be buried. Cemeteries with large numbers of Asian clientele often offer special packages for families who wish to bury their loved one in a specific fashion.

Ching Ming, the Grave Sweeping Ceremony

In the month of April, Asian families honor their ancestors by “sweeping” their graves or tombs. During this often elaborate event – one of the most important celebrations in Chinese culture -- families clean up gravesites, replant flowers and celebrate by eating lunch or dinner together.

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