What is a Wake? Difference between Wakes and Funerals

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What is a wake? And how is it different than a funeral? It can be take place at home, in a funeral home, or at the place of death. A wake is different from a viewing and not necessarily part of the funeral process. Here are some answers to the most common questions about wakes:

What is a wake?

A wake is a gathering of people in remembrance of a person who has died. This can take place at the funeral home, or even in someone’s home. People sometimes plan the wake at the church where the funeral takes place later.

Many grieving families schedule wakes early in the morning. This also allows people to attend both wakes and funerals without having to rush around during their busy day. While some families choose not to hold a wake, most do as way to remember their loved one. Moreover, they pay their respects before heading off to say goodbye at the actual funeral service.

When does it take place?

A wake occurs almost always before a funeral. It can also be held after the burial or cremation of the body, though this isn’t common. A wake is not actually a funeral. Instead, it’s an opportunity for mourners who can’t attend the funeral service to pay their respects to the deceased.

Wakes versus funeral

Funerals and wakes are similar, but have distinct differences. For example, we’ve already mentioned that wakes take place before a funeral. Moreover, a wake is not the same as a viewing. Many people confuse it with a wake because both take place at the funeral home.

Wakes tend to precede other types of memorial services such as church ceremonies or secular memorials. The latter are unofficial ceremonies of friends or family members who do not belong to an organized religion. Although these terms can sometimes be used interchangeably in colloquial English, there is actually a distinction between them when it comes to their purpose and duration.


A wake is a gathering of family and friends to honor the deceased. While a funeral is an organized ceremony that takes place after their death.

A wake usually lasts anything between some hours to over one full day. This sometimes happens soon after a person’s death until their burial or cremation. A funeral usually lasts only a couple of hours. In most cases a priest or minister conducts it at a church or funeral parlor. The purpose of both ceremonies is to allow people who knew the deceased to pay their respects and offer condolences to his/her family members.

Related terms

  • Viewing: The viewing is an opportunity for people to pay their respects to someone who has recently died. A body may be present during a viewing, but it’s important to note that a dead body does not belong at the viewing or funeral.

  • Celebration of Life: This term is another way of saying “funeral.” Sometimes funerals are referred to as celebrations. This is because they celebrate someone’s life rather than focusing solely on death. Some people may also simply refer to them as services or memorials.

  • Visitation/Reception: These terms refer specifically to what happens at wakes. Sometimes there will be food, which helps make visiting more comfortable. Other times there won’t be any refreshments available (because they’re not allowed).

Wakes versus viewings

Wakes are often held in the home of the deceased, while viewings take place in funeral homes.

Funerals often follow wakes, but not always. Viewings are typically held after a person’s death and before their burial or cremation. If there is no funeral, there might still be a viewing or wake although that is quite uncommon.

Final Thoughts

So, to sum up: a wake is not the same as a funeral. A wake is held before the burial or cremation. However, it does not necessarily include any religious rituals or prayers. It’s just an opportunity for friends and family members to say goodbye to the deceased person one last time before their body is taken away forever.

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