Chinese Funerals in Singapore – What You Should Know

Are you planning a Chinese funeral or attending a Chinese funeral in Singapore?

Are you worried that there are just too many religious rituals and symbolic funeral rites in Chinese culture for you to commit to memory?

Rather than risk committing some faux pas and offending someone, it’s best to understand  Chinese funeral traditions and customs, be it from the perspective of a funeral visitor or one of the bereaved.

One question that I get a lot from people attending Chinese funerals is “What should I do or not do at a Chinese funeral?” From my two decades of experience handling Chinese funeral services, I will try to explain what goes on in most Chinese funeral rites in Singapore.

Give us a call on our friendly 24Hr helpline @ 96921100 and we’ll be glad to answer your questions about Chinese funerals.

Singapore Chinese Funerals

Chinese funerals in Singapore are usually held at HDB void decks, funeral parlours, and even at homes.

Chinese funerals can also be subcategorized into Buddhist funerals, Taoist funerals, and other Chinese religious funerals.

Different religious beliefs have their own funeral wake, cremation and burial customs and traditions. If you want to know more about them, you can read about specific funerals here:

Knowing this, there are a few things that are common in most Chinese funerals in Singapore. Here are some things you should know about what to do at a Chinese funeral.

 

Before Arriving at the Funeral Wake (For Guests)

All traditional Chinese funerals include certain elements and follow etiquette around the length of the visitation, dress code and colours.

After consulting the Chinese Almanac, the relatives of the deceased select a date for the funeral. They will then send a notice to family and friends, along with the date and time of the funeral.

 

• What to Wear to Chinese Funeral Rites

Choose your outfit carefully. Chinese funerals are sombre and serious events. One is expected to pay respects to the deceased so wearing neutral and subdued colours are recommended during the mourning period. Shades of blue, black, white or any other dull colours are acceptable.

colours to wear to funeral

Avoid wearing or carrying anything red as in Chinese culture, it is a colour of celebration. Anything that stands out or is too revealing should be avoided as well.

 

Chinese Funeral Condolence Money

Prepare condolences donations (‘pek kim’ or ‘bojin’) to the bereaved family. The condolence money helps to defray the costs of the funeral. You are free to offer any amount based on your closeness to the family and personal financial ability.

Though typically offered in a white envelope, it is also acceptable to drop the cash directly into the condolence money box placed at the funeral wake’s reception table. In recent years, it is also common for those who are unable to visit the funeral wake to send condolence money via PayNow or PayLah.

white envelope with condolence money

 

• Condolence Wreaths and Blankets

Some people might want to contribute something other than monetary gifts to the bereaved family out of respect or close ties with the deceased. They can opt to send condolence wreaths or blankets that one often sees at a wake. You can browse a selection of funeral flowers from our partner, Far East Flora.

green funeral wreath

These days, sending condolence wreaths and blankets are usually the deeds of organisations and workplaces. Some Buddhist families may prefer to donate in the name of the deceased as a way to earn merit and they may in turn inform guests not to send gifts. Thus, it is better to check with the bereaved family before sending a gift.

 

During the Wake

 

• For the Bereaved Family

The Chinese place a lot of emphasis on filial piety and valuing sons within the family. As such, most of the ritual is headed by the eldest son. During the funeral rituals, surviving family members line up according to the family ranking to pay their respects.

The bereaved are also decked out in different outfits depending on their familial relationship with the deceased. Traditionally, immediate family members wear a burlap overcoat and straw slippers to signify that they are too overcome with grief to care about their appearances. Nowadays, to keep things simple, white or black outfits are commonly adopted.

The family will also burn joss paper, also known as ghost or spirit money, to ensure their loved one has a safe journey to the afterlife. The offering of food and joss paper signifies the continuing interdependence between the deceased and their living descendants.

Mourning pins (xiao) are small pieces of coloured cloth attached to the sleeves of the bereaved family. Family members of different standings will wear mourning pins of different colours. For example, a son’s pin will differ from that of a grandson’s, a married daughter’s pin will differ from that of an unmarried daughter’s, and so on.

In the past, mourning pins were worn from the first day of the funeral ceremony to the 49th day. However, it is worn only until the end of the funeral in recent times.

 

• For Funeral Visitors

When you first arrive at the funeral wake, you will be greeted and led by the bereaved family to pay your respects. Generally, for Buddhist and Taoist funerals, you will be asked to stop before the altar to offer joss sticks and to bow three times. Representatives of the bereaved family will stand by the altar and bow to you as a token of gratitude for your attendance.

You may politely decline for religious or other reasons and choose to observe a moment of silence and bow as a general sign of respect. If it’s an open casket funeral and you are close to the deceased, you may also round about the coffin to pay your respect and bid the deceased one last farewell.

Guests are also free to offer their help at the wake, including folding joss paper, buying food and snacks and rearranging the tables and chairs. At some funeral wakes, you may even find people playing mahjong or gambling. This helps to occupy the time of the bereaved family as they are expected to keep vigil 24/7 over the wake premises.

folded joss paper

 

• For Everyone

As death is considered inauspicious, pregnant women and young children are discouraged from attending.

During the sealing of the coffin, everyone is supposed to turn away as this process is believed to separate the dead from the living and anyone looking may attract misfortune.

 

Taking Leave from the Funeral

Guests who intend to take their leave from the funeral may do so quietly after informing one of the hosts. You should generally avoid leaving during a rite or sermons as it may be disruptive.

For a Buddhist or Taoist wake, you may notice a container with red threads on each table. These are believed to stave off any bad luck or spirits from attending a funeral. Hence, guests should tie one of them loosely around their finger and discard it before reaching home.

It is a traditional Chinese funeral practice for anyone who has been to a funeral to rinse one’s entire body in water steeped with pomelo leaves or loose flowers. This symbolises the cleansing of bad luck.

Nowadays, to make it convenient for funeral guests, funeral service providers place basins of loose flower water at the exit of funeral wakes. When guests leave, they can cleanse themselves with the flower water by dabbing their face or washing their hands to symbolise the cleansing of bad luck.

 

After the Wake

 

• Cremation and Ash Management

After performing the rituals by ordained priests or monks, the casket is sealed and transported to a cremation centre. Sometimes, a band of musicians will be hired and there will be a funeral procession led by them. In traditional Chinese culture, people believe that loud music will keep evil spirits away. The loud music symbolises that the deceased is well liked and respected, and that a grand funeral is conducted to pave a grand exit for him.

The family members will line up according to the family ranking and send off the hearse by placing their hands on the back of it. The photo of the deceased is placed at the front of the hearse before moving out.

In Singapore, most of the deceased are cremated. After cremation, the family members will take turns to pick up pieces of the bones and place them into an urn to be installed at a columbarium, an ancestral altar at a family home or an ancestral tablet at a temple or ancestral hall. Family members may also choose to conduct sea burials or inland ash scattering.

 

• Mourning Period

It is customary for the Chinese to mourn the deceased for some time even after the wake. As mentioned previously, odd numbers are used for funerals, where the wake can be held over three, five or seven days, depending on the deceased and family’s wishes.

The typical mourning period is 49 days as that is the number of days believed for rebirth to take place within the six realms of the Buddhist school of thought. Traditionally, prayers are conducted every seven days until the 49th day. Many families will also hold a memorial service on the 100th day in remembrance of the departed.

Most Chinese families will also choose not to host joyous occasions such as hosting a wedding one year after a death in the family. Some families will also refrain from celebrating and going for Chinese New Year visiting for the first Chinese New Year from the passing of their loved ones.

 

Role of a Funeral Director in Chinese Funerals

It can be difficult to understand and follow the rituals especially since there are so many Chinese funeral superstitions and rites. What’s more, traditions are being lost at an increasingly rapid pace as compared to the previous generations.

Our funeral directors are experienced and knowledgeable on Chinese funeral customs and etiquette. We can take care of everything from making sure the wake goes smoothly as planned to the ash management, helping to take a load off during difficult times.

If you need help navigating the complexities of a Chinese funeral service, feel free to drop us a message. At Embrace Funeral Services, we embrace families as if our own.

Give us a call on our friendly 24Hr helpline @ 96921100 and we’ll be glad to answer your questions about Chinese funerals.

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