What Is a Funeral Reception and What To Expect?

If you’re preplanning a loved one’s funeral, it’s customary to hold a funeral reception. These receptions exist in various forms depending on your cultural or religious beliefs, your specific needs, and your deceased loved one’s preferences.

A funeral reception is an informal gathering that offers mourners a chance to grieve, reminisce about, and celebrate the life of the departed. The reception may also be in the form of a shared intimate meal or festive event after the funeral service.

The rest of the article will go into greater detail on funeral receptions. You will understand how funeral receptions differ based on religion, what activities should be undertaken during funeral receptions, and how to prepare for a funeral reception as an attendee.

How Funeral Receptions Differ Based on Religion or Tradition

A memorial service is often held after the death of a person, followed by a funeral reception or wake. Funeral receptions differ between religions, as follows.

Buddhist Funeral Receptions

Buddhists prefer wakes after their funeral services, where they build an altar for the deceased. They place the deceased’s portrait as the centerpiece of the altar with the image of Buddha adjacent to it. Depending on the location of the funeral service, there may be lit candles, flowers, and fruits to pay respect to the deceased person and their family.

Catholic Funeral Receptions

Catholic funerals are usually followed by wakes. They involve multiple ceremonies to honor the deceased. Catholics hold a vigil service (which takes place in the evening) held several days before the funeral. The wake may involve reciting the rosary and other collections of prayers, readings from the scripture, and multiple eulogies for the dead.

Note that Catholic funeral receptions may differ from other Christian funeral receptions. For example, since Protestant sects do not emphasize rituals and ceremonies as much as Catholics do, their funerals tend to be more austere as well. 

Muslim Funeral Receptions

According to Islamic tradition, death is a transition to the afterlife. Therefore, under Sharia law, the deceased should be buried as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours after death. As a result, Islam funeral ceremonies last only a few hours and consist of chants and other Muslim funeral rituals. Family members also receive mourners in their homes. 

Guests must bring food and gifts for three consecutive days to respect and honor the deceased.

Non-Religious Funeral Receptions

Depending on their family’s request, some atheists may prefer a traditional memorial service with similar elements to a religious funeral ceremony, such as reading eulogies and sharing memories. Others may prefer holding a party where they drink and make merry to celebrate the deceased’s life.

How To Prepare for a Funeral Reception as an Attendee

  • Dress appropriately. Dress according to the deceased’s culture and religious beliefs. Usually, the most appropriate attire is dark or black with a conservative style.
  • Bring gifts. Bringing gifts to the deceased family is a sign of respect. You may offer money, flowers, sympathy cards, or other valuable items to the grieving family. When choosing funeral gifts, you should always be mindful of the culture of the deceased.
  • Behave accordingly. It’s crucial to act respectfully during all stages of the funeral, not just the reception. Therefore, ensure that you arrive early, put your phone on silent mode, participate or help out when needed, and offer kind and sympathetic remarks and gestures to the departed’s loved ones.
  • Consider whether you need to attend at all. Some cultures may have superstitions about certain individuals attending funerals. For example, if you’re a pregnant woman attending a Christian burial, it is believed that looking upon the countenance of a dead person will cause your child to become stillborn.

Activities Undertaken During Funeral Receptions

When someone dies, it’s natural to want to give your respects based on the culture or wishes of the deceased. Generally, however, a funeral reception involves the following.

  1. Finding a suitable venue. If the deceased did not select their funeral reception venue when they were alive, the family may wish to hold the wake at the deceased’s home. Alternatively, they may also choose a park, club, beach, or garden.
  2. Selecting ambient music. Music can enhance the somber mood at a funeral reception. Therefore, the funeral director needs to feature a playlist of the departed’s favorite songs to honor them.
  3. Providing food and drinks. Most funeral receptions involve serving the guests food and beverages. In some cultures or religions, guests can also bring food as gifts to the deceased and their family. These are often served in a centerpiece bowl as a way to pay respects.
  4. Giving speeches. Other than the eulogy during a funeral service, guests are encouraged to share stories and memories if given the chance to make a speech.
  5. Video/song tributes (optional). In some instances, the family may choose a band to sing for their guests or put together a video tribute shown at the reception. The video may incorporate a collage of photos, achievements, and memorable moments in the deceased’s lifetime.
  6. Taking part in group activities. Sometimes, in honor of the deceased, the family members may conduct group activities that involve lighting candles, singing, or praying together during the reception.
  7. Taking photos. The family may decide to take pictures of the funeral reception to commemorate it.
  8. Putting up decorations. Depending on the deceased’s age, sex, and preferences, the family may incorporate a theme that showcases a facet or two of the deceased’s personality. For instance, parents can decorate a funeral reception with specific colors and themed animals if the deceased is a child.


Every funeral reception is unique because of differences in religious beliefs, traditions, and the deceased’s preferences. The ones left behind often go to great lengths to ensure that the deceased is honored by selecting the best venue, giving guests a good time, and reminiscing, among other activities.

As an attendee of a funeral reception, you should ensure that you:

  • Dress accordingly.
  • Bring gifts.
  • Behave appropriately.

No matter what type of funeral reception you attend, ensure you pay your respects and honor the deceased in the best way you can. 


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Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

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