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How to plan a wake

Julia Faulks / 23 October 2015

Read our guide to planning a wake to help you through this difficult time.

Buffet at a wake
Many people will have travelled a long way for the funeral, so it's a good idea to provide some food

The type of wake that you plan will largely depend on the religious beliefs and customs of the person who has died. We guide you through this difficult time to help you prepare for the day or week ahead.

Traditionally a wake involves friends and relatives who stay with the deceased until they are taken to the church or cemetery. But these days, the term appears to have been adopted more for post-funeral gathering or ‘reception’ where family and friends come together to offer support and comfort or to say prayers.

A visitation or viewing is usually a far more subdued gathering and is held at the funeral home, chapel of rest or mortuary the day before the funeral, or immediately after the funeral or memorial service.

How can you involve friends and family?

The purpose of a wake is to celebrate the person who has died, so friends and family are encouraged to reminisce and share stories, laugh or cry together. You may choose to have on display any, or all, of the following:

  • Photos of the person placed in frames or in albums
  • A guest book for family and friends to write stories in and express their condolences
  • Funeral cards
  • Flowers

What sort of venue?

Death is a sensitive issue and people can be easily offended if it feels like too much of a ‘party’ atmosphere, so where is the right place to hold it?

1) Your own home or the home of the person who has died: This will allow people to feel comfortable and may feel a more casual setting.

2) A hired venue: This works well for large numbers of people. You may also want to consider reserving an area in a pub, hotel, social club or sports club.

3) Religious building: Some people don’t like the thought of having people back to their house or even in a social setting, so there is also the option of hosting a wake in a religious building.

What food and drink should you provide?

Many people who have come to the gathering will have travelled quite far to get there and will appreciate being fed and watered. Here are some suggestions for what to include on the day:

1) Hot and cold drinks: You can use disposable cups, plates and napkins to keep things simple.

2) Platters of food: Sandwiches, salads, cold meats, quiches, biscuits – it doesn’t need to be fancy. It could even be based on a favourite food of the person who has passed away, for example, fish and chips.

3) Catering: Organising outside catering will take the pressure off trying to work out what sort of food is appropriate and how much is needed (and some venues may offer this as part of the service). You could also ask people to bring a plate with them to contribute to the buffet and this will help to keep costs down.

4) Limited amount of alcohol: Keep supplies to a minimum, especially while emotions are high (and in some religions alcohol is not allowed at all).


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.