How to Organise a Wake

Advice on organising an after-funeral reception

Last updated: 2 August 2019

A table laid out with bread candle and flowers

Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels

What is a funeral wake?

A funeral wake is the name given to the social gathering that generally happens after the formal funeral proceedings have taken place. A wake and funeral might be attended by the same people or there may be reasons mourners could attend one, but not the other. A wake, or funeral reception is a more informal chance to pay your respects to someone who has died.

What is the name of the party after a funeral?

When arranging a funeral, you may want to consider having a reception afterwards, where friends and family can gather to remember the life of your loved one. This is commonly known as a wake or a funeral reception.

What is the point of a wake?

Funeral wakes are usually less formal than the service, offering a place for the bereaved to gather, share stories of a loved one, and celebrate their life. If you are arranging a wake, you may want to consider the venue, catering, and whether or not there will be entertainment.

What is done at a wake?

A wake or memorial service reception is an occasion, often accompanied by music and refreshments, where people can gather and share their feelings in an open manner. Mourners who did not attend the funeral service may often join at this point to pay their condolences.

Do you have to have a wake after a funeral?

It isn’t compulsory to arrange a wake for after the funeral. Although it is a very widely held custom to have a reception for mourners after the service, people will understand if you would prefer not to do this. A funeral wake does, though, provide an opportunity for other people who loved the person who died to talk about how much they’ll miss them – and express their sympathies to you.

Who usually attends a wake?

People may choose to attend the wake if they cannot attend the funeral; while some guests who were at the funeral may be unable to attend the wake. A funeral reception may be a chance for children to attend, especially they did not attend the funeral.

You may decide to place a funeral and wake announcement in a local newspaper or via a Funeral Guide obituary. Or you may choose for the wake to be announced at the end of the funeral service, inviting mourners to head on to a venue for refreshments.

Some people prefer the wake to be private. If you choose to go down this route, you can send out invitations or ask close family members to spread the word.

Organising a Wake

Planning a wake for a funeral need not be overwhelming, but funeral directors will often give advice and family and friends are usually able to help with arrangements; things like making cakes or finger-foods. Listed below are the key elements of how to organise a wake.

When and where should a wake take place?

A wake usually takes place after the funeral service and can take place anywhere you want, as long as the number of people you are expecting can be accommodated comfortably.

After the funeral service, it may be only close family members who attend the person’s committal. So if you wish to wait a few hours after the service, this is completely acceptable. Make sure that everyone who wishes to attend knows the time and location.

Traditionally, guests attend the wake after the funeral service.

The most common funeral wake venues are:

  • Church halls

  • Pubs

  • Social clubs

  • Sports clubs

  • Hotels

If you are responsible for arranging a funeral wake, remember to book the venue in advance and make sure guests know how to get there. If you want to decorate the venue with flowers or photographs, or set up entertainment (see below), you may need to visit the venue beforehand. Talk to the venue staff to organise when you can set up.

How long should a wake last?

There is no strict time frame for a wake, unless you’ve hired the venue for a limited time. Less formal affairs, for instance, at home, a pub or a social hall, the wake might run longer.

If you’re anticipating lots of people, a hired venue might be a good option– so that you can simply go home when you are ready, on a tiring and emotional day.

What do you serve at a wake at a funeral?

Some venues can provide catering for funeral receptions. If in doubt, ask your funeral director, who should be able to recommend a good caterer who does food for wakes.

If you wish to serve your loved one’s favourite food or drink or something culturally specific, many venues and caterers will be flexible with these kinds of requests.

If you are looking to keep cost at a minimum, an alternative is to provide your own food. Ask friends and relatives to make up sandwich platters and other buffet food items. Be sure to check with the venue that’s its okay to being your own food or drink.

Do people drink at funerals and do people drink at wakes?

As it is a formal, often religious and generally solemn occasion, drinking is not something that’s done at a traditional funeral, or may not be permitted at certain venues, such as a church hall.

A toast or drinking ritual in someone’s honour might form a part of an alternative civil funeral ceremony or celebration of life rites.

A wake is often, but not always, held in a place where refreshments are available or expected. Depending on your culture, religion and lifestyle alcoholic beverages may, or may not, be acceptable.If the wake’s being held in a pub, then that’s usually a sign it’s okay to raise a glass (or two).

What sort of entertainment can you have at a wake?

It is becoming increasingly popular to celebrate your loved one’s life with various forms of entertainment, including music and picture slideshows. Many funeral wake ideas centre around reflecting the loved one’s personality, and so entertainment may be appropriate.

Picture slideshows can be a heartfelt way of remembering the life of your loved one with your favourite photographs of them, accompanied by their favourite songs, or in silence for quiet reflection. Many venues will have the facilities to accommodate picture slideshows . Music is also becoming increasingly popular. Again, many venues have the facilities to play music, but ask beforehand, as you may be required to provide a CD or MP3 playlist.

What sort of budget is normal for a wake?

The cost of a wake can vary greatly and if you’re organising a funeral wake you may have to adopt a cost-conscious approach to planning your loved one’s wake.

There are many ways to keep costs low. Here are just a few tips for how to plan a wake on a budget:

  • Printing pictures of your loved one yourself at home rather than spending money getting them professionally printed

  • Playing your own music for the wake via CD or MP3 Player

  • Providing the buffet food yourself. Ask friends and relatives to help out by bringing sandwich platters, salads, etc.

  • Choosing a venue that is low cost. For example, a pub wake venue might be free if guests are buying drinks

  • Shopping around for venues for a funeral reception, rather than settling for the first one you find

What is some general wake etiquette?

A wake might be a less formal event than the funeral service itself, but a respectful and thoughtful approach is still recommended.

Whether the wake is a celebration of life or a more sombre event, be considerate of the feelings of the bereaved family. Listen to what they have to say and have some kind words of condolence. If you are unsure exactly what to say, or are worried the words come out right, the most important thing is sincerity.

Should I go to a wake?

Attending a wake is the chance to speak to the bereaved family and express condolences and talk a little about the person who has died. It’s also a time for sharing memories about them with friends when you all may be grieving.

People will appreciate if you paid your respects at the funeral, so there’s no obligation to attend the wake – although most people do.

How should I dress for a wake?

Most wakes take place after the funeral service, so go suitably dressed for the funeral. The funeral director or family will usually say if they’d like to wear mourners wear a particular colour, or dress less formally – if in doubt, keep it smart and sombre. If the event’s being held as a celebration of life or memorial instead of a funeral service, the dress code for the wake may be more informal.

Do you bring anything to a wake?

There is no formal expectation on what one should bring to a wake. If you want to know whether or not you should be bringing something specific then the family or the person organising the wake will be able to let you know.

Should I bring flowers to a wake?

It’s a thoughtful gesture to bring sympathy flowers to a wake but there are alternatives to sympathy flowers and it may be that people would prefer you you donate to a charity rather than buy flowers. Ask the funeral director if the family would prefer a donation made to a charity, rather than you bringing flowers.