One of our favorite things about living in this area is how incredibly diverse it is. We’ve talked here on this blog about the Hmong community that calls Milwaukee home, but our culture is influenced by a number of other heritages, including that of Poland. Did you know Milwaukee has the fifth largest Polish population in the U.S.? You’ve probably also heard of – or attended – Polish Fest. Held here every summer, it’s the single largest Polish festival in America!
Poles began arriving here shortly after the Civil War, fleeing poverty and political oppression in their homeland. They brought a number of rich traditions to the area – including their delicious cuisine, which you have most likely sampled on Milwaukee’s south side. The Polish people have maintained a strong cultural identity, which is closely tied to their Catholic faith.
They also have a number of funeral traditions. While most Polish funerals in the U.S. will look like a traditional Catholic funeral, there are some very specifics traditions tied to their heritage:
- Bonds are typically strong within Polish families. Family members will stay with the loved one during the dying process, and even after so they don’t feel abandoned.
- Historically, the body would be kept in the house for three days after death, and loved ones would stand vigil praying and saying the rosary. Doors and windows in the home would also be left open to allow the soul to depart.
- At a funeral, women will traditionally place their hand on the coffin, and men may place their caps on the casket.
- Because of their strong connection to the Catholic faith, religious rituals will often be included, including the administration of Holy Communion and the Last Rites.
- After the person is buried, a wake – or stypa – is held. Food and drinks are shared.
- Visiting a loved one’s grave is also important, especially on November 2nd, which is All Souls’ Day. Flowers and candles are often placed on the grave.
Traditions bring people together during difficult times, and maintain our connection to our past. It’s our honor to discover what rituals and practices each family follows. Integrating these into a funeral can add great meaning and can even aid in the grieving process. Whatever is unique and special to your family, we can incorporate into your loved one’s farewell.
What are some of the unique traditions that bring your family together?