Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Czech funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Welsh funeral traditions and Guatemalan funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
Traditional Death Beliefs
Traditionally, Czech families performed several rituals at Christmas time to determine their luck for the next year. Or else, they could have bad luck or even deaths in their family. On December 24th, they had a Christmas dinner where they followed several precise rules:
- They set the table for an even number of people because odd numbers were unlucky.
- They couldn’t leave the table until everyone finished, or else it brought bad luck or even death to the family.
- They also left the table at the same time, or else the first person to leave would be the first to die the next year.
- After dinner, they didn’t cross any fields or else they believed they would die within a year.
They also performed two rituals for telling the future. For the first one, they made small boats out of walnut shells. Then, they put candles inside them and placed them in a bowl of water. If your shell survived, you would have a long, healthy life. If not, you would have bad luck. For the second one, they cut apples in half and inspected the core shapes. If it looked like a star, your family would have good health the next year. If it looked like a cross, someone would die or become sick the next year.
Secular Czech Funeral Traditions
Most of the Czech Republic’s population is atheist or non-religious. As of 2011, 79.2% of the population identifies as either undeclared or no religion. For this reason, secular funerals are common among many families.
Per the study Believer Perspectives on Death and Funeral Practices in a Non-believing Country, death isn’t a commonly discussed topic in the Czech Republic. This may be due to differing opinions on the afterlife, especially among the non-religious population, so people avoid the topic.
For those who don’t believe in the afterlife, their funeral service focuses on life achievements. Many times, a professional speaker presents the eulogy rather than a family member. Some families don’t find the secular funeral to be personal or think it’s too expensive, so they don’t have one. However, this leaves families without an opportunity to grieve and honor their loved one. According to the Czech Cremation Association, 78% of those who died in the Czech Republic during 2005 were cremated. And about one-third of cremations had no funeral service.
Catholic Czech Funeral Traditions
Although most of the country isn’t religious, 10.5% of the population identifies as Catholic. Per the study above, most Roman Catholic Czechs who were interviewed believe in the afterlife and have a positive view of it. They also believe they can possibly influence the afterlife of the deceased through various rituals. Most people interviewed preferred in-ground burial and a large funeral ceremony with music for mourning the deceased.
Protestant Czech Funeral Traditions
Protestantism makes up 1% of the Czech Republic population. For the study, they interviewed Protestants of the Church of the Czech Brethren. Most people interviewed had similar afterlife beliefs as Catholics, but weren’t as specific about their beliefs. However, they don’t believe they can influence the afterlife. Both burial and cremation were common funeral arrangement wishes. As for the funeral ceremony, they want it to have a happy atmosphere, but still be a time to grieve.
Jehovah’s Witnesses Czech Funeral Traditions
Jehovah’s Witnesses make up about 1.1% of the population. Per the study, most people interviewed didn’t believe in the afterlife. Most people didn’t prefer one funeral arrangement over another, they just want the body treated with dignity and respect.