Gransnet forums


WAKE - does this still mean a vigil to you?

(49 Posts)
NotSpaghetti Tue 28-Jan-20 12:18:11

Aside from waking up, I keep hearing this word in the context of the reception after a funeral.
To me it will always be a vigil by the body of the dead person. I understood it was in older times a watching period to be sure the person was really deceased ahead of the funeral. As a girl, I think prayers were said.
I think this must be a word that’s changing. Or is it regional I wonder?

Iwastoldtheredbecake Tue 28-Jan-20 13:27:14

I’m in Oxfordshire and our local villagers refer to the ‘Reception’ afterwards as a Wake.
I’m from Hampshire and we always used to ask if anyone was going back to ‘Raise a glass to the deceased’.
Not sure now, but locally the Wake seems to be held in a Hotel or Pub, in the past it was in someone’s home and we all mucked in and made the food whilst remembering the person who had died. Of course we all talked about what everyone was wearing and who had turned up.
Nowadays I don’t think that the family of the deceased remember whether you were there.

Urmstongran Tue 28-Jan-20 13:38:25

I always thought the vigil was watching over the deceased before the funeral and the wake is after it? Or am I wrong?

boheminan Tue 28-Jan-20 13:43:51

Over the years friends of mine, who have known they will die soon, have had their Wake before they so. A joyous knees-up to say 'goodbye' to everyone whilst they still have the chance. Times they are a-changing...

NanKate Tue 28-Jan-20 13:58:04

When my son’s late MinL was in her last months she had a party for her 70th. It was a lovely meal and celebration. Just at the end of the meal our DGS about 4 at the time stood up unprompted and started ‘If you are happy and you know it clap your hands’ 😳 Fortunately everyone joined in and it rounded off the event well.

Daddima Tue 28-Jan-20 14:03:05

Our Irish family ‘ wake’ the deceased between the death and the funeral. The deceased is usually in the house.Tea & sandwiches are served ( strong drink is reserved for after the funeral!)
They are in a small village in Donegal, and there are usually signs directing people to the ‘ wake house’.

Bathsheba Tue 28-Jan-20 14:06:57

I agree with the OP that a wake was traditionally before the funeral, where people would come to see the deceased, pay their respects etc, and to watch over them and make sure they were really dead and didn't wake up.

I'm not sure there ever was a name for the gathering after the funeral. I certainly wouldn't call it a wake though hmm

lemongrove Tue 28-Jan-20 14:11:18

I think wake is an anglo saxon word, it means a sort of festival.
The wake after a funeral is to eat and drink and celebrate the life of the deceased person.
In Yorkshire there used to be Wakes Week, when all the workers went off on holiday and the mills closed down.

lemongrove Tue 28-Jan-20 14:18:54

Thinking back to childhood and my Irish relatives, I think they called the vigil a wake, so maybe it’s an Irish thing.
To Northerners ( England) it was always a social, eating/drinking thing.

vampirequeen Tue 28-Jan-20 14:21:31

I'm from East Yorkshire and we have the wake after the funeral.

eazybee Tue 28-Jan-20 14:28:55

I thought Wake was a word which originated in the North, and also Ireland, and meant the reception following the funeral.

annsixty Tue 28-Jan-20 14:29:36

I would also refer to the gathering after the funeral as the wake.

NotSpaghetti Tue 28-Jan-20 14:32:56

I’m a northerner, lemongrove and the “do” after the funeral was always a “reception” when I was young. As daddima says, there would only be alcohol at the reception, not before. I didn’t go to a vigil-type wake as a child, but my parents did.
I have done so as an adult though.

It seems “wake” is used differently by different people. Maybe it always was. Maybe it’s because so few people hold a vigil these days?

NotSpaghetti Tue 28-Jan-20 14:35:54

Oh yes, lemongrove wakes week - I’d forgotten about that - though do remember factory shut-downs.

grannyactivist Tue 28-Jan-20 15:02:19

Definition of vigil. 1 : the act of keeping awake at times when sleep is customary also : a period of wakefulness. 2 : an event or a period of time when a person or group stays in a place and quietly waits, prays, etc., especially at night a candlelight vigil kept vigil at her bedside.

When my sister died recently in Australia I was unable to attend her cremation and instead I lit a candle and sat vigil for her through the night.

Click here for the Wiki entry for a 'wake'.

aggie Tue 28-Jan-20 15:11:10

My Husbands Wake was in the house when the coffin was open and all our friends and family came to offer sympathy and we served tea and sandwiches , it was so nice to see everyone and it meant a lot fewer awkward meetings later , this was definitely the time to talk over old times and hear and tell stories about him
We had a meal in the village hall after the funeral , it was not the Wake

annodomini Tue 28-Jan-20 15:28:33

According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 'wake' originally did mean the vigil over the body prior to burial but came to be applied also to the feasting following the funeral. So everyone is right!

M0nica Tue 28-Jan-20 16:16:13

Words move a round and change their meaning as customs change.

I am part Irish, the Wake was the period while the body was in the house and the family kept watch, but now when someone dies, their body is taken from hospital bed to mortuary to undertaker or the undertaker comes home and whisks away the body, so the word has been transferred to the gathering after the funeral when we all have something to eat and drink and talk about the person and,as is my experience, as we remember them and their lives, and as we tell stories we all begin to cast off the gloom and misery of the death and burial and begin to lay down the foundations for their place in family memory.

As a catholic 'reception' means the body being transferred to the church for the funeral. It used to be the night before the funeral, but now immediately precedes it.

NotSpaghetti Tue 28-Jan-20 16:40:45

They were both receptions to me M0nica (also Catholic). Reception into the church being the receiving of the body as you say.
It's really interesting how practices vary and evolve.
Thank you all for sharing.

agnurse Tue 28-Jan-20 17:52:50

I've heard it used to describe both events.

Here in Canada, we usually use the term "vigil" or "prayers" to describe the events the evening prior to the actual funeral. The reception after the funeral is usually called the "funeral lunch".

Callistemon Tue 28-Jan-20 18:18:34

As far as I always understood, the wake is the gathering after the funeral when refreshments are served.

Yes, Wakes Week was the first week of August in the Potteries too!

BlueBelle Tue 28-Jan-20 19:07:46

A wake is definitely while the body lies in the house and people come to say goodbye before the funeral The tea and coffee drink etc after the funeral is a celebration of the persons life I ve never heard the after funeral referred to as a wake

Callistemon Tue 28-Jan-20 19:11:06

I've never known of a body lying in the house and we did have wakes so it must be a regional thing.

M0nica Tue 28-Jan-20 19:22:21

My mother died while on holiday in our house in France. The undertaker was very surprised that we didn't want her left at home for several days and although she was to be moved to the undertaker the same day, the embalmer came to the house to do his work as he normally would, before she was taken.

As I said the meaning of Wake has moved and widened in meaning - as words and customs do.

agnurse Tue 28-Jan-20 20:53:48


I think this is somewhat dependent on culture and individual preference. Here in Canada I have never seen someone have a home wake or a home funeral. Usually if you wanted to have something similar to a wake (but without formal prayers), it would be called a "viewing" and you would have it at the funeral home or the church/chapel. Sometimes, for example, there might be a private family viewing or a public viewing. This is not the same as the vigil or the prayers - there's no formal program at a viewing. Sometimes a viewing can be held just prior to a vigil/prayers.