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How to organise a wake

When arranging a funeral for your loved one, you may want to consider holding a reception after the service. This useful guide will explain how to organise a wake.


What is a wake?

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.

A wake is the name given to the social gathering that generally happens after the formal funeral proceedings have taken place. A wake, or funeral reception is a more informal chance to pay your respects to someone who has died. Funeral wakes are less formal than the service, offering a place for the bereaved to gather, share stories of a loved one, and celebrate their life.

It isn’t compulsory to arrange a wake for after the funeral, nor is it necessary to have a funeral service. Although it is a widely held custom to have a reception for mourners after the service, people will understand if you would prefer not to do this.

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 if they did not attend the funeral.

A memorial service or a celebration of life is similar to a wake, but often held as a stand-alone event instead of a funeral service or on a specific date such as a loved one’s birthday or the anniversary of their death.


How to organise a wake

A wake does not need to be elaborate. In fact, the nature of a wake is to be a more informal gathering — a place for family and loved ones to swap stories and share memories. There are a lot of different ways to hold a funeral wake, but here are a few things to consider:


1. Choose who to invite

A wake can be a private gathering for close family or a public gathering for the wider community. You need to consider who to invite before making other arrangements such as choosing the venue or organising food and drink.

Guests that were unable to attend the funeral, may choose to attend the wake.


2. Choose a venue

The wake can be held anywhere you want, but keep in mind how many people will be attending. Some common wake venues include:

- Your own home or another family member’s home
- Church halls
- Community centre or village hall
- Pubs or restaurants
- Social clubs
- Sport clubs
- Hotels

Make sure you book the venue in advance. You may need to visit the venue before the wake if you wish to decorate it with flowers or photographs.


3. Organise food and drink

A little food and drink is often provided at a wake, although there is no obligation to do so. If you are organising a wake on budget, you could ask guests to all bring a dish with them. Alternatively, you could hold the wake at a pub or restaurant, where guests will be able to purchase food and drink if they choose.

Some places will include catering as part of their fees which may work out less expensive than arranging both separately. Not all venues will have an in house catering team, however (for example if you hold the wake at a community centre or church hall), so if you do choose to use an independent catering company, you should shop around and compare a few quotes and read reviews if possible. A buffet of sandwiches and finger food are often the food of choice at a wake.

While it comes to alcohol, some families like to avoid it altogether. Some families prefer to provide a cup of tea or coffee or a soft drink on arrival instead.


4. Share details of the wake with family and friends

You will need to share details of where the wake is being held and at what time with family and friends. 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.

If you would prefer the wake to be attended by the wider community and you decide to place a funeral announcement in a local newspaper, the same can be done to announce the date, time and place of the wake. You could also use social media to share the word.

You may also choose for the wake to be announced at the end of the funeral service, inviting mourners to head on to a venue for refreshments.


Funeral wake ideas: what do you do at a wake?

It may seem strange to think about providing entertainment at a wake, and you don’t have to. However, it can help to bring people together to share memories of the person who has died. Here are a few ideas:

- Memory jars – Lay small jars out on a table with a stack of note cards or post it notes, and ask people to write a memory of the person who has died and put it in a jar. You can take these home to read as you wish or hand them out to guests to read.

- A memory tree, book or board – similar to memory jars, ask people to write a memory on a label or post it note and attach it to a tree, board or book. This will act as keepsake to remind you of your loved one.

- A slideshow or video – you could prepare a slideshow of photos or even a video of the person who has died. You can ask the venue if they have a large screen or projector to display it.

- Create a playlist – you could create a playlist of your loved one’s favourite songs and ask guests in advance for their suggestions of songs that remind them of time spent with the person who has died.

- Arrange live music – if your loved one loved live music, it might be a nice touch to arrange for a musician or band to be present.


How much does a wake cost?

The cost of a wake can vary greatly dependent on the venue, the number of people you expect to attend and the catering options you choose.

If your budget is limited, we recommend holding the wake at home and providing the food yourself or asking attendees to bring a dish along. Alternatively, families may choose to hold a smaller wake, inviting family members and close friends only.


For more funeral planning ideas, see our guidance and advice area or contact us for help arranging a funeral for a loved one.

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