In many parts of the world, black is traditionally the color of death, mourning and funeral fashion, but it is not the universal color of mourning everywhere.
Donning dark colors for mourning has been strongly associated with death and loss for centuries in the west and is a practice believed to date back to the Roman times.
In the early 1900s, black jewelry made from polished stone, jet, was particularly popular in the form of mourning brooches and mourning rings. It also was also not uncommon for the bereaved to incorporate the intricately knotted or woven hair of the person who died into mourning jewelry, as a sentimental and tangible way of remembering a loved one.
Today, the color black is worn by widows, and in countries like Russia, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Portugal and Spain, widows wear black for the rest of their lives. Families may even wear black for a couple weeks after a death.
Many people wear white mourning clothes in eastern Asia, symbolizing purity and rebirth.
In Cambodia, the official religion is Buddhism, a faith that believes that when someone dies they are reincarnated, in a circle of life. The family of someone who dies wears white mourning, in the hope that their loved ones are reborn again.
The idea of white mourning, otherwise known as deuil blanc in French, was formed during the 16th century when white was worn by bereaved children and unmarried women. This became a custom for the reigning queens of France.
Red has different meanings, according to different cultures. In China, red symbolizes happiness and is a color that’s strictly forbidden at funerals. In South Africa, red is has been adopted as a color of mourning, representing the bloodshed suffered during the Apartheid era.
During Easter week, in Guatemala, Catholics celebrate by reenacting the days leading to Christ’s resurrection. During the Procession of the Holy Cross, on Good Friday, men and boys dress in purple robes and hoods as a sign of mourning and symbol of the pain and suffering of Christ’s crucifixion.
Many devout Catholics in Brazil also wear purple, alongside black, while mourning the loss of a loved one. In fact, it can be considered disrespectful and unlucky to wear purple if you are not attending a funeral, as the color has a sacred, devotional meaning to it.
In Thailand, purple defines sorrow, and is reserved for widows to wear while mourning the death of their spouse. However, other funeral guests are required to wear black.
In ancient Egypt, gold was associated with eternal life and the all-powerful god Ra, whose flesh was believed to be formed from the precious metal. Imperishable, and indestructible, gold was the color of royal mourning.
In Papua New Guinea, widows apply a grey, stone-colored clay to their skin, after the death of their husband.
While religion and tradition are still an important part of many funerals, there’s been a step change towards personalized funerals, which are a celebration of life.
It may be the wish of the person who has died for mourners to wear bright colors, or the family may request you to wear a specific color or ribbon in support of a charity. Usually, the family or funeral director will communicate these wished prior to the funeral or memorial service.
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