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Girl in mourning dress holding framed photograph of her father, who presumably died during the American Civil War.
Egyptian women in a sorrowful gesture of mourning.

Mourning is, in the simplest sense, synonymous with grief over the death of someone. The word is also used to describe a cultural complex of behaviours in which the bereaved participate or are expected to participate. Customs vary between different cultures and evolve over time, though many core behaviors remain constant.

Wearing black clothes is one practice followed in many countries, though other forms of dress are also seen. Those most affected by the loss of a loved one often observe a period of grieving, marked by withdrawal from social events and quiet, respectful behavior. People may also follow certain religious traditions for such occasions.

Mourning may also apply to the death of, or anniversary of the death of, an important individual like a local leader, monarch, religious figure, etc. State mourning may occur on such an occasion. In recent years some traditions have given way to less strict practices, though many customs and traditions continue to be followed.


  • Social customs and dress 1
    • Africa 1.1
      • Ethiopia 1.1.1
    • Asia 1.2
      • Japan 1.2.1
      • Thailand 1.2.2
      • Philippines 1.2.3
    • Europe 1.3
      • Continental Europe 1.3.1
      • White mourning 1.3.2
      • United Kingdom 1.3.3
        • Georgian and Victorian Eras
    • North America 1.4
      • United States 1.4.1
    • The Pacific 1.5
      • Tonga 1.5.1
  • State and official mourning 2
  • Religions and customs 3
    • Confucianism 3.1
    • Buddhism 3.2
    • Christianity 3.3
      • Eastern Christianity 3.3.1
      • Western Christianity 3.3.2
    • Hinduism 3.4
    • Islam 3.5
      • Directives for widows 3.5.1
    • Judaism 3.6
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Social customs and dress




  • Victorian mourning garb at Morbid Outlook.
  • The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning By Maurice Lamm
  • To Those Who Mourn a Christian view by Max Heindel
  • Free info on Jewish customs related to death, mourning, Kaddish, shiva, yahrtzeilt, the hil, & the afterlife
  • What Is Love without Mourning? Male Intimacies and Cultures of Loss An article that considers the importance of mourning in respect of male same-sex intimate relationships

External links

  • The Canada Gazette
  • Clothing of Ancient Rome
  • Charles Spencer, Cecil Beaton: Stage and Film Designs, London: Academy Editions, 1975. (no ISBN)
  • Karen Rae Mehaffey, The After-Life: Mourning Rituals and the Mid-Victorians, Lasar Writers Publishing, 1993. (no ISBN)
  1. ^ Wokineh Kelbessa (2001). "Traditional Oromo Attitudes towards the Environment: An Argument for Environmentally Sound Development" (PDF). Social Science Research Report Series (19). p. 89. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Mark and Maggie Banga (2012). "Mourning and healing". Comboni Lay Missionaries. Retrieved 2015. 
  3. ^ Johan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages (1919, 1924:41).
  4. ^, David. "English Funeral and mourning clothing". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  5. ^ The Universal Cyclopædia, W. Ralston Balch, Griffith Farran Okeden & Welsh, London, c. 1887
  6. ^ See Taylor, Jupp and Litten.
  7. ^ L. Frank Baum, Michael Patrick Hearn. The Annotated Wizard of Oz. p. 334.  
  8. ^ Ebrey, Patricia B. (1993). The Inner Quarters. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 51.  
  9. ^ "Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain – Funerals & Memorials". Retrieved 2014-04-17. 
  10. ^ A. C. Parker (2009-01-05). "Melting Pot Family: Kolyva for Aunt Bea". Retrieved 2014-04-17. 
  11. ^ Living in Crete.Net. "Funeral Traditions in Crete and Greece". Retrieved 2014-04-17. 
  12. ^ 40 days wilderness...truth or sun myth retold? Archived December 7, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Clark, V. (2000) Why Angels Fall: A Journey Through Orthodox Europe from Byzantium to Kosovo (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan)
  14. ^ Viṣṇu smṛti 20.30
  15. ^ Viṣṇu smṛti 20.30–40
  16. ^ Āpastamba dharma sūtra–9
  17. ^ Sahih Muslim Volume 2, Book 23
  18. ^ (Number 370-371)
  19. ^ (Number 391)
  20. ^ (Number 375-393)
  21. ^ Islahi(1986), pp. 546
  22. ^ Shehzad Saleem. The Social Directives of Islam: Distinctive Aspects of Ghamidi’s Interpretation, Renaissance. March, 2004.


See also

During the Shloshim the mourners are no longer expected to sit on the floor or be taken care of (cooking/cleaning). However some customs still apply. There is a prohibition on getting married or attending any sort of celebrations and men refrain from shaving or cutting their hair.

The most known and central stage is Shiva, which is a Jewish mourning practice in which people adjust their behaviour as an expression of their bereavement for the week immediately after the burial. In the West, typically, mirrors are covered and a small tear is made in an item of clothing to indicate a lack of interest in personal vanity. The bereaved dress simply and sit on the floor, short stools or boxes rather than chairs when receiving the condolences of visitors. In some cases relatives or friends take care or the bereaved's house chores, as cooking and cleaning. English speakers use the expression "to sit shiva".

Judaism looks upon mourning as a process by which the stricken can re-enter into society, and so provides a series of customs that make this process gradual. The first stage is the Shiva (literally meaning seven), which consists of the first seven days after the funeral. The second stage is the Shloshim (thirty), referring to the thirty days following the death. In some special cases there are more extended periods of mourning which can last three months and even one year. Each stage places lighter demands and restrictions than the previous one in order to reintegrate the bereaved into normal life.

A woman mourning the death of her husband, Prague, 1772


Islamic scholars consider this directive a balance between mourning a husband's death and protection of the widow from censure that she became interested in remarrying too soon after her husband’s death.[21] This is also to ascertain whether or not a lady is pregnant.[22]

Qur'an prohibits widows from engaging themselves for four lunar months and ten days after the death of their husbands. According to Qur'an:

Directives for widows

In Islam, no such thing as 3,or 5 or 7 or 40 or 100 days consecutive tahleel to respect the dead. It usually come from mixed tradition with local tradition.

Grief at the death of a beloved person is normal, and weeping for the dead is allowed in Islam.[19] What is prohibited is to express grief by wailing ("bewailing" refers to mourning in a loud voice), shrieking, tearing hair or clothes, breaking things, scratching faces, or uttering phrases that make a Muslim lose faith.[20]

Loved ones and relatives are to observe a three-day mourning period.[17] Widows observe an extended mourning period (Iddah), four months and ten days[18] long, in accordance with the Qur'an 2:234. During this time, she is not to remarry, move from her home, or wear decorative clothing or jewelry.

Mourning is observed in Islam by increased devotion, receiving visitors and condolences, and avoiding decorative clothing and jewelry.

Women mourners at the reburial of newly identified victims of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia.

In Islam examples of mourning practices are held annually in the month of Muharram, i.e. the first month of Islamic Lunar calendar. This mourning is held in the commemoration of Husayn bin Ali, who was martyred along with his 72 companions by Yazid bin Muawiyah. Shia Muslims wear black clothes and take out processions on road to mourn on the tragedy of Karbala.


On the morning of the thirteenth day, a Śrāddha ceremony is performed. The main ceremony involves a fire sacrifice, in which offerings are given to the ancestors and to gods, to ensure the deceased has a peaceful afterlife. Pind Sammelan is performed to ensure the involvement of the departed soul with that of God. Typically after the ceremony, the family cleans and washes all the idols in the family shrine; and flowers, fruits, water and purified food are offered to the gods. Then, the family is ready to break the period of mourning and return to daily life.

The male members of the family do not cut their hair or shave, and the female members of the family do not wash their hair until the 10th day after the death. On the morning of the 10th day, all male members of the family shave and cut their hair, and female members wash their hair. This day is called Dasai or Daswan. After "Daswan", some vedic rituals are started. If the deceased was young and unmarried, the "Narayan Bali" is performed by the Pandits. The Mantras of "Bhairon Paath" are recited. This ritual is performed through the person who has given the Mukhagni (Ritual of giving fire to the dead body).

On the day on which the death has occurred, the family do not cook; hence usually close family and friends will provide food for the mourning family. White clothing (the color of purity) is the color of mourning, and many will wear white during the mourning period.

Hindu mourning is described in dharma shastras.[15][16] It begins immediately after the cremation of the body and ends on the morning of the thirteenth day. Traditionally the body is cremated within 24 hours after death; however, cremations are not held after sunset or before sunrise. Immediately after the death, an oil lamp is lit near the deceased, and this lamp is kept burning for three days. Hinduism associates death with ritual impurity for the immediate blood family of the deceased, hence during these mourning days, the immediate blood family must not perform any religious ceremonies (except funerals), must not visit temples or other sacred places, must not serve the sages (holy men), must not give alms, must not read or recite from the sacred scriptures, nor can they attend social functions such as marriages, parties, etc. The family of the deceased is not expected to serve any visiting guests food or drink. It is customary that the visiting guests do not eat or drink in the house where the death has occurred. The family in mourning are required to bathe twice a day, eat a single simple vegetarian meal, and try to cope with their loss.

Death is not seen as the final "end", but is seen as a turning point in the seemingly endless journey of the indestructible "atman" or soul through innumerable bodies of animals and people. Hence, Hinduism prohibits excessive mourning or lamentation upon death, as this can hinder the passage of the departed soul towards its journey ahead: "As mourners will not help the dead in this world, therefore (the relatives) should not weep, but perform the obsequies to the best of their power."[14]


In more formal congregations, parishioners also dress according to specific forms during Holy Week, particularly on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, when it is still common to wear black or sombre dress or, as mentioned, the liturgical color purple.

Christian Churches often go into mourning symbolically during the period of Lent to commemorate the sacrifice and death of Jesus. Customs vary among the denominations and include the covering or removal of statuary, icons and paintings, and use of special liturgical colors, such as violet/purple, during Lent and Holy Week.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the Mass of Paul VI, adopted in 1969, allows several options for the liturgical color used in Masses for the Dead. Prior to the liturgical reform, black was the ordinary color for funeral Masses; in the revised use, several options are available. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (§346d-e), violet, white, or black vestments may be worn at Offices and Masses for the dead.

The European social forms are, in general, forms of Christian religious expression transferred to the greater community.

Western Christianity

As in the Roman Catholic rites, there can be symbolic mourning. During Holy Week, some temples in the Church of Cyprus draw black curtains across the icons.[13] The services of Good Friday and Holy Saturday morning are patterned in part on the Orthodox Christian burial service, and funeral lamentations.

The 40th day has great significance in Orthodox religion. That is the period during which soul of deceased wanders on earth. On 40th day ascension of his soul occurs. Therefore, it's The most important day in mourning period, on which special prayers should be held on grave site of deceased. This custom originates from old Slavic pagan religion and it was incorporated into Orthodox religion, during the Christianization of old Slavic nations .

When an Orthodox bishop dies, a successor is not elected until after the 40 days of mourning are completed, during which period his diocese is said to be "widowed".

Sometimes men in mourning will not shave for the 40 days.[11] Forty seems to have recurring pre-Judaic origins e.g. in the Rites of Persephone.[12] In Greece and other Orthodox countries, it is not uncommon for widows to remain in mourning dress for the rest of their lives.

Special prayers are held on the third, seventh or ninth (number varies in different national churches), and 40th days after death; the third, sixth and ninth or twelfth month;[9] and annually thereafter in a memorial service,[10] for up to three generations. Kolyva is ceremoniously used to honor the dead.

Orthodox Christians usually hold the funeral either the day after death or on the third day, and always during the daytime. In traditional Orthodox communities the body of the departed would be washed and prepared for burial by family or friends, and then placed in the coffin in the home. A house in mourning would be recognizable by the lid of the coffin, with a cross on it, and often adorned with flowers, set on the porch by the front door.

A mourning ritual of the Mingrelians in Georgia, c. 1884.

Eastern Christianity



There are five grades of mourning obligations in the Confucian Code. A man is expected to honor most of those descended from his great-great-grandfather, and most of their wives. One's father (and mother) would merit 27 months. One's grandfather on the male side, as well as one's wife, would be grade two, or twelve months of austerities. A paternal uncle is grade three at nine months. Grade four is reserved for one's father's first cousin, maternal grandparents, siblings and sister's children (five months). First cousins once removed, second cousins and a man's wife's parents were to get grade five (three months).[8]


Maria Luisa, Queen of Spain lying in state, by Sebastián Muñoz, 1689, displays the full panoply of lying in state

Religions and customs

On the other hand, the principle of continuity of the State must be respected. The principle is reflected in the French saying "Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi!" [The king is dead, long live the king!]. Regardless of the formalities of mourning, power must be handed on; if the succession is uncontested, that is best done immediately. Yet, a short interruption of work in the civil service may result from one or more days of closing the offices, especially on the day of the State funeral.

In January 2006, on the death of Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the Emir of Kuwait, a mourning period of 40 days was declared. In Tonga, the official mourning lasts for a year; only afterwards is the royal heir crowned the new king.

All over the world, States usually declare a period of official mourning after the death of a Head of State. The signs may vary but usually include the lowering or posting half-mast of flags on public buildings. (In contrast, the Royal Standard of the United Kingdom is not flown at half-mast, because there is always a monarch on the throne.)

The black-and-white costumes designed by Cecil Beaton for the Royal Ascot sequence in My Fair Lady were inspired by the "Black Ascot" of 1910, when the court was in mourning for Victoria's son, Edward VII.

The degree and duration of public mourning is generally decreed by a protocol officer. It was not unusual for the British court to declare that all citizens should wear full mourning for a specified period after the death of the monarch, or that the members of the court should wear full- or half-mourning for an extended period. On the death of Queen Victoria (January 22, 1901), the Canada Gazette published an "extra" edition announcing that court mourning would continue until January 24, 1902. It directed the public to wear deep mourning until March 6, 1901, and half-mourning until April 17, 1901.

State mourning or, in the case of a monarchy, court mourning refers to displays of mourning behavior on the death of a public figure or member of a royal family.

Queen Paola of Belgium in "grand deuil"

State and official mourning

In Tonga, family members of deceased persons wear black for an extended period of time, with large plain Ta'ovala. Often, black bunting is hung from homes and buildings; and, in the case of the death of royalty, the entire country adopts mourning dress and black and purple bunting is displayed from most buildings.


The Pacific

At the end of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy explains to Glinda that she must return home because her aunt and uncle cannot afford to go into mourning for her because it was too expensive.[7]

In the 19th century, mourning could be quite expensive, as it required a whole new set of clothes and accessories or, at the very least, overdying existing garments and taking them out of daily use. For a poorer family, this was a strain on the resources.[6]

In the antebellum South, with social mores that imitated those of England, mourning was just as strictly observed by the upper classes.

Mourning generally followed English forms into the 20th century. Black dress is still considered proper etiquette for attendance at funerals, but extended periods of wearing black dress is no longer expected. However, attendance at social functions such as weddings when a family is in deep mourning is frowned upon. Men who share their father's given name and hence use a suffix such as "Junior" retain the suffix at least until the father's funeral is complete.

Mourning dress, circa 1867
Museum of Funeral Customs

United States

North America

The rules were gradually relaxed, and it became acceptable practise for both sexes to dress in dark colours for up to a year after a death in the family. By the late 20th century, this no longer applied, and black had been widely adopted by women in cities as a fashionable colour.

Queen Victoria with the five surviving children of her daughter, Princess Alice, dressed in mourning clothing for their mother and their sister Princess Marie in early 1879.

Formal mourning culminated during the reign of Queen Victoria, whose long and conspicuous grief over the death of her husband, Prince Albert, may have had much to do with it. Although fashions began to be more functional and less restrictive for the succeeding Edwardians, appropriate dress for men and women—including that for the period of mourning—was still strictly prescribed and rigidly adhered to.

Friends, acquaintances, and employees wore mourning to a greater or lesser degree depending on their relationship to the deceased. Mourning was worn for six months for a sibling. Parents would wear mourning for a child for "as long as they feel so disposed". A widow was supposed to wear mourning for two years and was not supposed to enter society for twelve months. No lady or gentleman in mourning was supposed to attend social events while in deep mourning. In general, servants wore black armbands when there had been a death in the household. However, amongst polite company the wearing of a simple black armband was seen as appropriate only for military men, or others compelled to wear uniform in the course of their duties - a black arm band instead of proper mourning clothes was seen as a degradation of proper etiquette and to be avoided.[5] In general, men were expected to wear mourning suits (not to be confused with morning suits) of black frock coats with matching trousers and waistcoats. In the later interbellum period between World War I and World War II, as the frock coat became increasingly rare, the mourning suit consisted of a black morning coat with black trousers and waistcoat, essentially a black version of the morning suit worn to weddings and other occasions, which would normally include colored waistcoats and striped or checked trousers.

The five daughters of Prince Albert wore black dresses and posed for a portrait with his statue following his death in 1861.

Widows were expected to wear special clothes to indicate that they were in mourning for up to four years after the death, although a widow could choose to wear such attire for the rest of her life. To change the costume earlier was considered disrespectful to the deceased and, if the widow was still young and attractive, suggestive of potential sexual promiscuity. Those subject to the rules were slowly allowed to re-introduce conventional clothing at specific time periods; such stages were known by such terms as "full mourning", "half mourning", and similar descriptions. For half mourning, muted colours such as lilac, grey and lavender could be introduced.[4]

Special caps and bonnets, usually in black or other dark colours, went with these ensembles. There was special mourning jewelry, often made of jet. Jewelry was also occasionally made from the hair of the deceased. The wealthy would wear cameos or lockets designed to hold a lock of the deceased's hair or some similar relic.

By the 19th century, mourning behaviour in England had developed into a complex set of rules, particularly among the upper classes. For women, the customs involved wearing heavy, concealing, black clothing, and the use of heavy veils of black crêpe. The entire ensemble was colloquially known as "widow's weeds" (from the Old English waed, meaning "garment").

Poor orphans depicted wearing a makeshift black armband to mourn for their mother (Work by F.M. Brown), 1865
Georgian and Victorian Eras

Today, no special dress or behaviour is obligatory for those in mourning in the general population, although various ethnic and religious faiths have specific rituals, and black is typically worn at funerals. Traditionally, however, there were strict social rules to be observed.

United Kingdom

The color of deepest mourning among medieval European queens was white. In 1393, Parisians were treated to the unusual spectacle of a royal funeral carried out in white, for Leo V, King of Armenia, who died in exile.[3] This royal tradition survived in Spain until the end of the fifteenth century. In 1993, it was revived by the Spanish-born Queen Fabiola for the funeral of her husband, King Baudouin I of Belgium. Additionally, in 2004, the four daughters of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands all wore white to their mother's funeral. The custom for the Queens of France to wear deuil blanc [white mourning] was the origin of the White Wardrobe created in 1938 by Norman Hartnell for Queen Elizabeth (later called Queen Mother). She was required to make a State visit to France while in mourning for her mother.

Advertisement for Victorian mourning garb
Mary, Queen of Scots, in deuil blanc c. 1559 following the deaths of her father-in-law, mother, and first husband Francis II of France.

White mourning

In areas of Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, and Spain, widows will wear black for the rest of their lives. The immediate family members of the deceased will wear black for an extended period of time. Since the 1870s, mourning practices for some cultures, even those who have emigrated to the United States, are to wear black for a period of at least two years, though lifelong black for widows remains in Europe.

Women in mourning and widows wore distinctive black caps and veils, generally in a conservative version of the current fashion.

Through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, distinctive mourning was worn for general as well as personal loss; after the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of Huguenots in France, Elizabeth I of England and her court are said to have dressed in full mourning to receive the French Ambassador.

The custom of wearing unadorned black clothing for mourning dates back at least to the Roman Empire, when the toga pulla, made of dark-colored wool, was worn during periods of mourning.

Catherine de' Medici as widow, c. 1560s
Mourning jewelry

Continental Europe


The Filipino practices for mourning have influences from Chinese, Japanese and folk Catholic beliefs. People may wear white or black. The color red is frowned upon in the time of mourning, it is believed that those who wear red within 9–40 days will die or suffer illness. The consumption of chicken during the wake and funeral is also believed to bring death among the relatives. There is an initial 9-day mourning practice called Pasiyam, a novena is to be prayed by those who are mourning. During those 9 days the spirit of the deceased is believed to be roaming. 40 Days, similar to the Buddhist practice of 49 days, is a folk Filipino Catholic practice of commemorating the dead after 40 days from their death date. A Mass and a small feast are held to commemorate the dead during the 40-day period, the 40th day as their judgment day. The immediate family wear black and when the one-year period is over, the first death anniversary will signal the end of mourning - celebrated by a feast.


In Thailand people will wear black when attending a funeral. Black is considered the mourning color.


It is customary for Japanese-style mourning dress to be worn only by the immediate family and very close friends of the deceased; other attendees wear Western-style mourning dress or subdued Western or Japanese formal clothes.

Japanese-style mourning dress for women consists of a five-crested plain black silk kimono, black obi and black accessories worn over white undergarments, black zori sandals and white tabi split-toe socks. Women's mourning kimono and accessories are worn only for mourning. Men's mourning dress consists of clothing worn on extremely formal occasions: a plain black silk five-crested kimono and black and white or gray and white striped hakama trousers over white undergarments, black crested haori jacket with a white closure, white or black zori and white tabi.

The Japanese term for mourning dress is mofuku (喪服). The term refers to either primarily black Western-style formal wear or to black traditional Japanese clothing worn at funerals and Buddhist memorial services. Other colors, particularly reds and bright shades, are considered inappropriate for mourning dress. If wearing Western clothes, women may wear a single strand of white pearls.

Japanese funeral arrangement.


In Asia many people dress in different colors such as indigo, ruby-red and many more. In India the members of the mourning family and the people who come to participate in mourning all wear white clothes.


Edir members are required to stay with the mourning family and comfort them for three full days. [2] Additionally, Edir members comfort the mourners: female members take turns doing housework, such as preparing food for the mourning family, while male members usually take the responsibility to arrange the funeral and erect a temporary tent to shelter guests who come to visit the mourning family.[2] Members make monthly financial contributions forming the Edir's fund. They are entitled to receive a certain sum of money from this fund to help cover funeral and other expenses associated with deaths.[2][1]

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