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Organising a funeral wake

The wake held after a funeral service can be as traditional or unique as you like. As personalised funerals become more popular, people are choosing to use the funeral wake to celebrate the life of their loved one, rather than mourn their death.

What is the difference between a funeral and a wake?

A wake was traditionally known as the small service before the funeral, where the family and close friends gathered around the body of the person who had died, to pray and mourn together. In Catholicism, this kind of wake may also be referred to as the ‘viewing’, as it was a way of watching over the body before the funeral.

These days, the term wake can refer to any kind of gathering or reception, held before or after the funeral service. Typically a wake is now held after the more formal funeral service, providing a chance for guests to socialise and celebrate the life of the person who has died.

What happens at a wake?

The format of a wake can be quite flexible. Some people may choose to have a traditional setup, where prayers or readings are read. Others may choose to have a non-religious event, where guests are encouraged to attend to pay their respects to the family, get some refreshments and socialise.

Whether it’s steeped in custom or a casual get-together, funeral wakes provide an opportunity to bring extended families and friends together to say goodbye to a loved one, offer support to the bereaved and share memories of the person who has passed away.

Do you have to have a wake after a funeral?

You do not need to have a wake after a funeral, if you do not want to. Some choose not to have a wake at all and keep the funeral service for immediate family and close friends only.

You also may choose to hold a wake before a funeral, it’s completely up to you.

Who attends a wake?

If you’re organising a wake, you can decide whether to make it a public or private event. If it is a public funeral service, details of the wake can be included in a published obituary or the order of service at the funeral. By doing this, anyone who hears about the death or attends the service could go to the wake.

If you choose to do a private wake, you can choose who you invite to the event. This will typically be family and close friends, relatives or colleagues of the person who has died.

How to organise a wake

Organising a wake doesn’t need to be a difficult process, but it can be an emotional one. If you would rather have some help in organising the wake, your local funeral director will be able to help.

Here are some funeral wake ideas and tips on what you need to consider when organising a wake.

Number of guests

If you're expecting a large attendance at the funeral service, then the venue you choose for the wake will need to be large enough to accommodate all your guests.

How to invite guests

A funeral reception can be either public or private, so if you're organising one you will need to be clear about your expectations for family, friends and acquaintances. You'll either want to contact close family members personally to pass on the information, or put it in the order of service.

Funeral wake venues

There are a number of places where you can have a wake. Wakes typically take place at a church hall, a hotel or sports/social club close to where the funeral has taken place. You can also consider holding the wake in your home, a local pub, coffee shop, or restaurant.

Food and drink

First you should decide what kind of food and drink you want to serve at the wake. You may want to hire caterers to organise this or you could choose to do homemade food and drinks. Some venues will offer a bar service and catering facilities.

Typical food to serve includes a buffet of sandwiches and snacks, or platters of pub snacks.

Ideas for entertainment at a wake

Entertainment may seem like a strange thing to have to consider, but some funeral receptions are now becoming more of a celebration. You might want to organise entertainment such as live music, slide shows, or display photos of your loved one.

Costs for a wake

You’ll need to decide how much you want to spend on the venue and catering. We'll be able to advise on approximate costs.

How long does a wake last?

Depending on the time of the funeral, we'll be able to give an approximate time of when the guests will start to arrive at the venue. You may decide that you only want guests to stay for a certain length of time, we can let the venue know if this is the case.

What do you bring to a wake?

If you are a guest attending a funeral wake, there isn't usually anything that you are expected to bring. You might feel that it is appropriate to bring a card offering your sympathies, but that can also be sent at another time.

We have experience of working with all kinds of funeral wake venues, and can provide information and suggestions to help you decide on the most appropriate funeral wake and reception for your friends and family. Contact your local funeral director today for help planning a funeral wake.

0800 088 4883 (24 hour service)