A primer on the farewell practices of various ethnic and religious groups.

    The United States is a diverse melting pot of people. With knowledge of the types of services that take place for the major religious and ethnic groups and whether flowers are appropriate for each, you can better assist your sympathy customers.

religious customs

Protestant, Anglican

A funeral service typically takes place at a funeral home or church, with a wake or viewing occurring the prior evening. Flowers, cards and charitable donations all are suitable expressions of sympathy.

Roman Catholic

A wake or viewing takes place at a funeral home or church, and a funeral Mass follows the next day (or the same day, if the wake is not in the evening) in a church. The funeral often is followed by a brief committal service at a cemetery. Prohibited by the Roman Catholic Church until 1963, cremation has become acceptable; however, the church prefers that it is done following the funeral Mass. Flowers, cards and charitable donations all are suitable expressions of sympathy.

Jewish (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform)

A rabbi performs a funeral service, usually within 24 to 48 hours of the death, for immediate family. After burial, the family “sits shiva” for seven days. During this period of mourning, relatives and friends visit. Flowers are not appropriate for the service or during shiva. Food is an appropriate gift, but it must be kosher.


Sending flowers to the funeral home or to the home of the family is an appropriate expression of sympathy.

Muslim (Islam)

Funeral services are conducted in a mosque and followed by burial in a cemetery. Flowers are not appropriate. Food can be sent to the home of the family.


.After a visitation period, either in the home or at a funeral home, the deceased is cremated. Flowers are not appropriate. Fruit is the best way to convey sympathy.

  Flowers, fruits, candles and incense can be set on an altar in front of the casket along with the deceased’s portrait. Friends and family members place in the casket small pieces of paper, which symbolize a monetary gift for use in the afterlife. Flowers are suitable expressions of sympathy, but red flowers are not appropriate. Instead, use white flowers to symbolize mourning. Food is not appropriate.

ethnic customs


More than 70 percent of Hispanics in the United States identify themselves as Catholic, so many customs of the Catholic faith apply. At grave sites, families usually stay for the lowering of the casket and pass out flowers for family members to place on top of the casket as it is being lowered.


A wake during which music is played or sung takes place. Some African-Americans hold a “home-going” service, which reflects the personality of the deceased and celebrates the conviction of going home to Jesus. A funeral service is followed by a burial. Cremation is less accepted.


After the viewing, the family often will place money or monetary symbols into the casket as a gift for use in the afterlife. This also is a tradition of Buddhism, which is among five official religions in China. (The Chinese also practice Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism.) Flowers may or may not be appropriate depending on religion. Red should not be present because it is considered a “happy” color.


Because the Japanese typically cremate their deceased, most services are memorial in nature. The urn with the cremated remains is usually present along with a large photograph of the deceased. Flowers may or may not be appropriate depending on religion. The primary religions in Japan are Shinto, Buddhism and Taoism.


A service consisting of a viewing, prayers and songs usually takes place the evening before the funeral gathering. Flowers are a large part of the service and include special ribbons containing Korean messages. The primary religions in Korea are Buddhism and Christianity.

These guidelines may vary from region to region. Consult with the funeral director assisting the family if there are any doubts about what is appropriate.

Thanks to the National Funeral Directors Association in Brookfield, Wis. ( and Stewart Enterprises, Inc., a leading provider of funeral and cemetery products and services, with headquarters in Jefferson, La.

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