How to organise a wake

What Is A Funeral Wake?

Even back to Celtic times before the Roman invasion, there were events associated with funerals that were given the name Wake. To explain in the most simple of terms it was felt that someone should always guard over the deceased to keep evil spirits at bay.


Something the Catholic Church also developed for themselves, as they did with most Pagan rituals, absorbing or eradicating the traditions common place amongst the peoples of Great Britain and Europe before the arrival of Christianity.

A Wake is an event which is normally held in the days leading up to a funeral but can also be arranged as an occasion for family to meet after the person has been buried. 


Historically however and especially in the Catholic church, a wake is arranged directly after the person’s death where a body is placed in a room, which can be in the person’s home or at the Chapel of Rest.


It isn’t entirely different to a viewing where family and friends can visit. 


The exceptional point about holding a wake, especially when considering American films and television series is that it should be an event where people can gather and drink, to say goodbye, to have general conversation with people in a more relaxed environment. At least as relaxed as can be.

Not many choose to attend a wake but will if so requested by a family member. 


It’s an opportunity to console not only the next of kin but offers the ability to release tensions relating to a funeral and the death of someone. 


To retell memories, offer condolences and generally have a good chin wag.


There are not rules as such when it comes to holding a wake. Simply allow family and friends to come and go as they please on a given date or arrange a time where the local community can gather. 


Typically society is moving away from such an occasion with the Funeral Director’s Chapel of Rest being the most popular location for a viewing. This is still a tradition people are uncomfortable with.

From the announcement of death to the service to the burial with a funeral wake held before or after the funeral itself. When you arrange a funeral you may wish to set aside a time and a location for a wake that you can invite people to attend.


Wakes have become synonymous with funerals in Europe for centuries. 



They offer family and friends a place to meet each other and discuss the person they loved and liked and admired in an informal atmosphere. While the Church is for the service of remembrance, the viewing if arranged – a solemn moment for a last goodbye, a wake is a kind of anti-party. 



People will be offered the opportunity to meet before or after a funeral to see other family members and meet the person’s friends. Psychologically it is a group release of emotions that helps everyone understand what has recently occurred. People share memories, fond stories and the occasional scandal and commiserate as well as laugh about the person that was dear to them.

Why Is It Called A Wake After A Funeral?

DID YOU KNOW: Wake is the shorter version of Awake, because the people or person that stayed night and day until the person was buried had to be awake for the duration. To ensure evil spirits were kept at bay.


Over time this practice has changed from a person standing on watch, to many taking the position until the deceased is buried or many families and friends visiting all at once and talking, drinking in a more relaxed environment.

What Makes For Good Funeral Wake Venues?

Over the years the duration and timing of a wake has been changing. You will find that many funeral websites suggest a wake be after a funeral and separate. 


But what sort of places make for better funeral wake venues? And is it best to try to seek out funeral wake venues near me and my family home, rather than a further distance?


Locations noted as being receptive to a gathering related to a funeral, a so called post funeral reception are pubs, sports halls, football grounds, Working Men’s social clubs, church halls or a hotel conference hall.


The family arranging a wake may do so for several reasons.


To enable more people to attend a final goodbye because the local church is not big enough to accommodate all of the congregation, or that the funeral is restricted to close family and friends only. 

There may be an option to attend both the funeral and wake or either, enabling people to feel free to make their own decision.


Children sometimes find funerals difficult occasions. Although a wake is a similar affair it is still a more relaxed environment where they may feel more at ease. With adults talking, making banter and consoling, while eating and drinking as opposed to a funeral which is naturally a much more dark and serene affair.


Another type of wake could be associated to a Memorial Service, one that may be held a month after, several months later or on the anniversary of the deceased’s death. 


Funeral Director’s will know of local venues near you that can accommodate a pre or post funeral gathering at short notice, or your local pub landlord may be happy to oblige.

Do Mourners Think Up Funeral Wake Ideas?

If you are considering hosting a wake you may be wondering how it could be less boring and more attractive to those in attendance. 


It may seem like an absurd suggestion that family and friends should feel entertained or to look forward to something other than a a quiet environment to recap and say Goodbye however small particulars may matter.


The following are not just funeral wake ideas, they could be built into any function involving family and friends meeting around the time of death or for a memorial service; where the deceased may be present or already committed.

  • Personalise:

    Consider setting up a memory board or notice board, where people can add messages and memories or personal photos so others can imagine the deceased's life in a more colourful way that through speeches and Eulogies, this could also be hosted online.
  • Educate:

    Quite often when a person dies they have a nominal collection of books or a small library. These could of course be given to charity or sold but another idea may be to give them away to those attending the wake as a keepsake.
  • Keepsakes:

    Post funeral it maybe possible to have keepsake urns or other glass ornaments where ashes have been entwined. It is popular amongst some families.
  • Entertainment:

    While it may appear incorrect to some, a celebration as a goodbye is not out of tune with today's modern thinking. There could be music, live band, fireworks or a show by the family's children. More akin to the Irish TV series episodes in America.

What's The Best Suggestion For Funeral Wake Food?

A funeral can be a tiring and exhausting experience for a great many, while food is not served at a funeral it can often be found at the wake or post funeral reception. It may be the case that a local delicacy such as Pie ‘n Mash might be fitting if it’s a football related South London get together.


However a great many opt for buffet food, uncomplicated, discreet, not messy in any way and food that can keep in the open on a table in a room for several hours without needing to be changed. Food that can be held and eaten with one hand, while sipping a drink and chatting to friends.


It’s not necessary to employ specialist funeral caterers though there are. Next of Kin can rustle up food themselves should they wish, if the attendance isn’t too be too large and it’s not too much of inconvenience. 


People who offer help as they feel they need to could be asked to bake a cake and bring it along. It would help them emotionally and bring welcome offerings to the event. Typically wake food can encompass bite sized sandwiches, meat and cheese on sticks, sausages, deviled eggs, quiches and vol-au-vents.


A funeral wake buffet is best when served cold and lessens the smells at what can be an uncomfortable time for some, so called finger food for funeral wakes can fill an empty void in the stomach and stem nerves from resurfacing. 


It probably goes without saying that wine and beer on tap and a few spirits can also dampen worries, raise some courage and allow free flow of conversation between people who are not accustomed to one another that frequently.

How Do You Coincide A Wake And Funeral For Mourners?

If you have never organised a funeral before you will be aghast at the contemplation of doing both the service and the meeting after or before. 


At some point hopefully much later in your life you will become adept to organising a funeral even after the first time. At first go you will come to realise that this is the most important event to arrange at the worst possible moment in life.


Centuries ago wakes were easy to announce and see people arrive for. 


These days however family and friends can be hundreds and thousands of miles away, requiring long journeys to attend a funeral of someone they loved or knew. 


It may well be an almost impossible task to expect everyone to both show up for the funeral as well as the wake unless they are both held within hours of each other.

There are several options for a wake after funeral services or before. 


Consider the on the day approach, a local pub hired which is metres from the cemetery or crematorium, where those in attendance can simply walk a short distance to partake in a stiff drink and a cloudy conversation. 


Fewer may attend if they are unable to stay over or don’t have a designated driver. This is less of a problem if it is held before the service.


On occasions families arrange a wake a few days before the funeral or a few days after. This could be a local gathering or one intended for people that are further away and couldn’t make the trip so early due to work commitments or financial reasons. 


While the most important aspect is your consideration for the deceased it is perhaps good to think of those who wish to pay their respects in one form or another.

Do You Have To Have A Wake After A Funeral?

No, it’s not necessary to have a wake before or after a funeral. 


You don’t even have to have guests back to your house or that of the deceased for a drink. You can simply arrange for people to gather and meet outside the place of worship or crematorium, weather permitting that is.


A wake is a personal choice and if there is not that many people to be received on the day of the funeral or the deceased was not well known in a community or had few family members, a wake may not be required unless it’s for tradition and the watch until the person is interred.

Who Should Be Invited To A Funeral Wake?

I have lost a family member and the last thing I wanted to do was have a wake with lots of people. You may be different and wish there to be a large gathering. Any wake can be arranged on personal terms.


Have one wake for family, another for friends and work colleagues, or simply just invite family back to your home and others can congregate at the Church after, meeting family and relatives as they leave.


It is not obligatory for all to attend the wake, it either may seem too distressing or over the top and people should not feel it is compulsory to attend.


Equally a person may wish to attend the Wake instead of the Funeral. It is however an opportunity for family to meet each other. Meet the nieces and nephews and Children to meet their cousins. The size, who attends and how large or small the get together is entirely up to you.

How To Plan A Wake For A Funeral

This need not be a complicated affair. Alternatively it can be flamboyant. In some families it is traditional to go back to the person’s home or a nearby family home to have the wake.


Whatever the location you should notify people of your wishes to hold a wake before or after the funeral so people can make plans and don’t feel left out should they find out one occurred and they missed it.


You will need to figure out who might be attending, there is little point hiring a sports hall if there is only several. 


On the other hand if inviting friends, the person’s work colleagues and all the family, a living room in a two bed house may not be sufficient. 


Settle on a time and a place and inform people, this can be done vie email or an announcement in the local media.

Venues that are suggested by a Funeral Director will range form Sports Halls to the church itself, a Hotel function room or a pub and social club that has a separate room.



There are other ideas to consider that are related to the deceased’s past times.


It could be held at the local football club, or a concert hall or any number of places related to their lifestyle that will encourage more to understand and or to attend.



Ensure any place you consider is booked as soon as possible. That members of the public and family members travelling in from outside the area know how to get there. 


Should you wish for there to be family photos or some sort of decoration, this may need additional care, thought and permission beforehand.

Like playing a video on a screen or showing personal items or belongings.


If the gathering is small, it could be comforting to provide the food yourself for the Wake and guests. 


Catering however can be arranged professional. Caterers have special menus for this very event and they will assist in planning everything from the food to the function itself with staff on hand to help on the day.


If the Wake is being held at a Pub, they may be able to provide nibbles and evidently drinks without charge, having put money behind the bar beforehand. There maybe issues at some venues with serving your own food but most should be accommodating.

Both followers of religion and those with Humanist intentions have found different ways of celebrating a person’s life, both during a funeral service and at a wake. 


It may seem strange to lay on entertainment for a wake but there have been instances where this has been arranged. A singer wouldn’t be out of place but most centre around personal memories.


You may wish to have a projector so slide shows can be run throughout, but please note this could be too distressing for some, for others very welcome.

The person’s favourite music could be played, their football team’s best ever match and if it is a themed funeral this could be followed through to the wake itself.


You need to be aware that this is still a funeral and a wake, however if the person who has died has expressed certain wishes, it would be a good idea to follow them up to a certain point if not fulfilled entirely.


The cost of a wake need not be exorbitant. In a lot of situations the funeral itself has already taken a great slice of any available funds.

Consider the food, any venue hire and the cost of putting together a slideshow memorial. you would not be out of place asking nearby family to arrive early and help make sandwiches or ask guests to drop off food before the funeral.


This after all, is family and friends and they will do almost anything to help. If you do choose to hire a venue, compare prices and cost of services, it would not be wrong to do so and do likewise with catering firms and other supplies.


Is A Wake Important To Have?


You can decide whether a wake is suitable once you get an idea of the amount of people who will attend the funeral and any clear response to being invited to a wake. A room at the Church for half an hour afterwards might suffice and not need a whole new location and food at all.