Armenian funeral services belong to those Armenian ceremonies where, like nowhere else, you can see all the highlights of Armenian culture. Armenian funeral etiquette is fixed and carefully kept. Burying the deceased and skipping the funeral rituals is a sign of disrespect and is shamed.
Tourist attractions, cuisine, architecture, leisure time, etc. … These are main things that usually interest foreigners first. But there is one more thing, which is not in the traditional list of fun things, but it’s definitely in the list of interesting things.
We are going to discuss Armenian funerals. Yes, it sounds a bit weird and dull, but these services contain so much culture, traditions and rituals that we just couldn’t let it hang by itself.
All nations have their own specific and sometimes even weird distinctive features of funeral ceremonies. Armenian funeral ceremonies are not an exception as well. Here you’ll know about Armenian funeral rituals and etiquette in all details.
This is one of those rare cases when we wish you would not have the reason to be part of those events. But in any case, if you happen for some reason to be present at an Armenian funeral ceremony, this is the etiquette you must follow!
What Armenian Funerals Looked Like Thousand Years Ago?
Ancient Armenian Burial Etiquette
Armenia is a land where you definitely will never feel lack of history! Yeah, historical elements remained from unmemorable times are met in almost any corner in Armenia. Some of them even come from ancient times drawing back to about 320000 years.
The oldest archeological findings connected with Armenian funeral rituals are from Bronze Age. Hold on, here you’ll meet many creepy stuff. Ancient Armenian Funeral etiquette included several ways of burying the dead person.
Very often the deceased was used to be carried to mausoleum or burned. However, if we go deeper, we will find other widely accepted rituals. There were cases that ancient Armenians dismembered the body of the dead man and then buried.
Frequently they used to bury only the head. Though this is not the whole thing! One of the inseparable parts of Armenian ritual etiquette was leaving the dead person in nature for several days for the body to rot and only then take him to the mausoleum. Yep, we agree, it’s kind of gross.
If Only Ancient People Knew the Worth of Gold in Real Life
Sometimes ancient Armenian funeral rituals reached to extremism. One of the vivid examples of this is stated in the mentions of ancient Armenian historians.
Armenians used to bury gold and other expensive things with the gone one. They strongly believed that he/she will use this stuff in his other life. So, if the dead one was rich, accordingly his grave was full of gold silver stuff.
Ohh, if only those ancient people knew what we could have done with that gold! But we’re all pretty sure dead people never used them, right? So, maybe it’s time for new excavations?
Let’s Show Some Respect, Let’s Cry Out Really Loud!
Another mentioning about ancient Armenian rituals was how people used to mourn during the funerals. This was the case when they had to show off all their emotions and mourn as loud as they could, even if they didn’t feel like doing it.
Why? Because otherwise they would show disrespect towards the person who was dead. This mourning process was especially vivid when the dead person was someone of a high rank such as a king.
An ancient Armenian historian, Movses Khorenatsi even mentions that during the funeral ritual of Armenian king Artashes, people were mourning so badly, that some of them killed themselves to be with their favorite king.
The tradition of mourning faded rather late in Armenian funeral ceremonies. Even in the 18th century mourning was so widely accepted among Armenians that there were people who were specially hired to mourn during the funeral. All they had to do was to mourn as loud as they could. They even had a “professional” nickname- “mourning women”.
What Armenian Funerals Look Like Today?
Thanks God Armenian funeral etiquette cordially differs today. However, there are some elements typical to Armenian culture, that have been preserved from ancient times till our days.
Traditionally, Armenian funeral ceremonies take place three days after the death. Before the funeral ceremony, there is a memorial ceremony. Usually the deceased body is kept at home during that ceremony. But, it has not always been like that.
It has its explanation too. Armenians never kept dead bodies at homes for memorial services before 20th century. But after the sovietization of Armenia, everything concerning church and religion was banned. Weddings and baptisms were not allowed in the church. This referred to memorial and funeral services as well.
If anyone dared to pay a memorial service in a church, the communist party would take “a good care” of that family in Siberia. So, people had no other choice than to transfer all rituals to their homes.
It’s logical that with the collapse of the Soviet, this tradition should have changed too. And it goes that way, it’s just not there yet. Many generations grew up seeing that ritual at their homes and they are kind of used to it and are not willing to change it. This refers to elderly generation, over 60, mostly because they were brought up not by the religion, but by the communist ideology.
However, younger generation refuses to obey the rules of an empire that is dead and gone. The vast majority of people try to skip the “home” part and prefer to keep the memorial service in the church or funeral salons until the final funeral ceremony.
The Symbolism of Coffin Lid during Armenian Funerals
In case the body is kept at home before the funeral, the lid of the coffin is placed near the front door.
This keeps special message in itself and intends to inform the neighbors that there was a death at the family.
Memorial Ritual Before the Armenian Funeral
The day before the funeral the deceased is usually placed at the living room in case when the pre-funeral ceremony is held in home.
The closest relatives and the family members usually stay in the living room the whole night before the funeral ceremony. Other relatives and friends re-gather the next morning already to be present for funeral ceremony.
Rituals of Armenian Funeral Ceremony
- This Armenian funeral tradition may seem quite creepy, but it was delicately preserved and is an inseparable part of every Armenian funeral ceremony. Before taking out from the home the deceased, the man holding the coffin must knock the door with coffin for three times. The important component of this tradition is that it must not be in the presence of women. The tradition has been preserved from pagan times.
- Taking out the deceased from home, the coffin should be placed in the yard of the house for a while. If the services are in the church then accordingly, it is placed in the churchyard. Here the friends and relatives can approach and say goodbye for the last time.
- Then the men hold the coffin and spin the coffin for 3 times before placing in the car. This kind of traditions preserved till today, don’t have any special explanation. They are just kept as an essential part of any traditional Armenian funeral ceremony.
- The main funeral ceremony is held in the grave where all the friend and relatives gather. Usually, the funeral ceremony is held by a priest. But, as mentioned above, there are still some communists out there who prefer to ceremony without the presence of a priest.
- Armenian funeral rituals are not over after the burial process. They last rather long. One of them is “hogehats”. “Hogehats” is the meal served after the funeral ceremony. The meal is usually served at a restaurant to all the people who were present at the funeral ceremony. “Hogehats” is considered a sign of respect towards the deceased. But the dishes are not diverse, that are special dishes vor “hogehats”. One of them is “khashlama”, cooked meat with potatoes.
What Follows the Armenian Funeral Ceremony?
- Seven days after the death the relatives and friends gather again. They attend the cemetery. The same thing is with the such-called “Qarasunq”, which takes place 40 days after the death.
- Armenians pay special attention to the gravestone. Armenian cemeteries differ a lot. You can see not only the names and years of birth of death on the gravestone, but also the photos of deceased ones. You also can judge from a grave whether the person was rich or not.
- By the way all the works on the grave must be finished within a year since the death. The works on a grave are connected with lots of costs, that’s why many Armenians have to borrow money for doing that.
- The super expensive costs of Armenian funerals make Armenians to come up with different solutions. Many close friends and relatives give some money to the family of the dead. The amount may differ, according to the financial capacity of the one who gives. But this money gathered by relatives, in many cases is enough or, almost coves all funeral costs.
- It is important also to bring flowers during both memorial service and funeral as well. If it is one family, or person they usually bring bouquet of flowers.
- There is also a tradition to order a huge wreath, which costs five times more than a simple bouquet. That’s why this is not done by one family, or person. Usually friends, or for example colleagues of the dead person gather money and buy one wreath in the name of them all. Right in the wreath there is a black tape on which is written “From loving friends”, or “With love from Hakobyan family”, or “With love from classmates”, etc.
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