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Why a wake of death is sometimes more festive than a wedding?

Updated on January 1, 2008

Interestingly, funerals and weddings share many features, such as using flowers, having buffet meals after the ceremony, giving and receiving gifts, special costumes...

What are the Red and White Festivals in Chinese culture?

Wedding and funerals, and anniversaries were all called "red and white festivals". A funeral was considered a "festival" because death was considered a relief from suffering. Therefore, it was a blessing for the dead and a solace for the living.

A wedding is called a 'red festival' because red is the colour of weddings in China. Red is central to the wedding theme of China. It signifies love, joy and prosperity and is used in a variety of ways in Chinese wedding traditions. The bride's wedding down is often red, as are the wedding invitations, and wedding gift boxes or envelopes for cash gifts. Even the bride and groom's homes are decorated in red on the wedding day.

A funeral is called a 'white festival' because Chinese wear white at funerals and white symbolises grief. White ribbons and flowers signify death. Contemporary Western influence however has meant that dark-coloured or black attire is now often also acceptable for mourners to wear (particularly for those outside the family). In such cases, mourners wearing dark colours at times may also wear a white or off-white armband or white robe.

A traditional Chinese gift to the attendees of a funeral upon entering is a white envelope, usually enclosing a small sum of money (in odd numbers, usually one RMB (Chinese currency) or three RMB), a sweet and a handkerchief, each with symbolic meaning. The repetition of 3 is common where people at the funeral may brush their hair three times or spit three times before leaving the funeral to ward off bad luck.

The post-funeral meal is as important as ever, though now more often held in a hotel or restaurant than at home. The only difference of a funeral meal and a wedding meal is that funeral meals have tofu dishes, probably because tofu is white. Therefore a post-funeral meal is also called a 'tofu meal' where tens of extended family members gather to honour the dead.

Chinese regard dying of old age without disease as a happy thing. In the funeral meal of such a dead, bowls are sometimes used as a gift to the attendees, and it's believed that a bowl from a funeral meal of such a "dying of old age" will bring good luck and make people who use it live longer. Sometimes you may find that the mood of such a funeral meal is livelier and more festive than that of a wedding.


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thanks for this interesting Hub; I enjoyed it very much.

    • thooghun profile image

      James D. Preston 10 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Thank you for this, it's also a pleasure to net an inkling of culture which is vibrant and different from my own!