Traditional Korean funerals are much different from any other funeral that happens in the U.S. Korean funerals are believed to be rooted in Confucianism. Confucianism is a set of Chinese beliefs that teaches and guides people as to how one should lead his or her life. On the basis of these teachings, citizens are guided on varied subjects like politics, education and love.
Traditionally, the Koreans believed that the deceased person or their relatives after death leaves for an afterlife. They believed that the person lives a life even after dying, so it is their duty to help the deceased person have a good farewell. They also ensured that the person should have a smooth shift into the afterlife.
Customs for Korean Funeral
Funerals in Korea are usually held in hospitals or homesteads. According to the Confucianist custom, the family must help the deceased person’s spirit to have a smooth transition into the afterlife. It is for the loved ones that they do all such things. However, modern funerals are generally held in hospitals. They can choose the hospital for their loved one’s based on the availability of the funeral service.
Previously, Koreans used to have much-elaborated customs for funerals. However, the rapid evolution of Korea has considerably changed the customs and many of it is no longer practiced. Still, all traditional customs are followed in some villages. Most of the young generation live in cities and live too far away to attend traditional funeral ceremonies.
In the cities, there is a shortage of time and space, and so people contribute to shorter ceremonies. The rate of cremations is also growing.
A portrait is a must at every Korean funeral. It is a common practice of the Koreans and they choose their portrait before death. You will be surprised to know that there are some photography studios who only shoot funeral photographs. The portrait is the centrepiece for the altar.
The traditional funerals replace flowers with food offerings. However, flowers are common in the funerals of modern days. Flowers are placed at the altar of the deceased or they can also put them at the entrance of the funeral room.
The offering of food benefits the deceased and their loved ones. Food is offered as a tribute to the deceased and it will help them along in their journey after death.
Modern funerals also emphasize on food and drinks. Instead of offering food to the deceased, families sit around a large table in the dining hall of the funeral. Funeral halls are believed to prepare the same food across the entire country. The food includes meat, spicy soup, and fish.
What to wear to the funeral
Feel comfortable wearing black clothing. You will notice the family members wearing black. Going by the traditional beliefs, family members wear hanboks. The hanbok dress is a set of leggings, hemp hat and armband. Usually, you will see the chief mourner wearing a black suit with a hemp armband. Korea has a very vast business of hemp clothes. You can also buy hanboks from the Korean hanbok store.
Varied dresses are available for attending funerals as well. Hemp clothes are finer and durable as well than normal clothing. In the past, the immediate family used to wear sangbok. Sons and Grandsons were adorned entirely in hemp clothing. Mixed pieces of clothing were worn by distant family members. In modern times, the practical approach is followed by the Koreans, and they don’t follow such strict rules.
Offering gifts and flowers
Modern funerals don’t want you to bring flowers. Wreaths are offered only by the immediate family members or large organizations. You may want to offer some white or yellow flowers, smaller in size to the shrine. But, they are not necessary. You can just attend the funeral to mourn for the deceased. For funerals, you should always choose subdued colours. Reserve the brighter ones for occasions.
You can also consider giving a donation to the family of the deceased. Donations are made to cope up with the expenses of the funeral. The cost of funerals is rising, and it has made donations necessary.
Natural burials along the countryside are chosen by the Koreans.