Proper Etiquette for Hispanic Funeral Gifts

by Maryanne Schiffman

It is never pleasant to think about the death of a friend or loved one. However, sooner or later this issue touches all of us. When it does, it is best to know how to handle the delicacy of the situation. In the case of Hispanics, the majority of whom are Catholic, this means familiarizing oneself with Catholic funerary customs as well as Hispanic traditions and gift-giving protocol.

The Tradition of Catholic Funerals

In Catholicism, there are three parts to a funeral: the vigil or “wake;” the funeral liturgy or Requiem Mass; and the Rite of Committal preceding the burial. In Spanish, these are known as the “velorio,” the "funeral” or “Misa de Réquiem” and the “entierro” respectively. Their ritual structure is universal in Catholicism, regardless of language or location.

The Protocol of Catholic Funerals

The wake can take place in the home of the deceased, a funeral parlor or the church. It should be attended only by family members and close friends and co-workers. The maximum time that one should spend in attendance is 15 to 30 minutes. The funeral usually takes place in a church and includes the celebration of Mass. The final component, the Rite of Committal, most often takes place at the site of burial.

The Gift of Flowers

Mourners should never bring flowers to a wake; have them sent ahead of time instead. This is to leave the hands empty in order to embrace grieving loved ones. Mourners may also send flowers to the funeral, but keep in mind that the use of flowers in this service is minimal. This is in keeping with the Catholic symbolic traditions of contrasts, in which flowers are used in ceremonies that celebrate life, such as Sunday and Easter Masses.

The Gift of Money

Many times families prefer that in lieu of flowers, a donation be made in the name of the deceased to a charity of the family's choice. However, if the family is in a difficult economic situation, especially as a result of this event, a gift of money is appropriate, most often given inside a sympathy card.

The Gift of Food

If you want to give something more personal, consider bringing the grieving family food. Often under the duress of loss, people stop cooking and even eating. By giving them ready-to-eat food – especially something homemade – it will help make sure that they stay healthy during this difficult time. If you don’t have time to cook, consider assembling a basket of “indulgences” that you think may comfort the family. Gourmet coffee, relaxing teas, cookies and other snacks are all good items to include.

Final Protocol

One of the most difficult things in this unhappy situation is knowing what to say. This can be made even worse if you don’t speak someone’s language. In the case that a family member doesn’t speak English, a warm hug and the simple "Lo siento" (“I’m sorry” or literally, “I feel it”) is the best way to communicate your condolences. If you cannot attend any of the components of the funeral, sending flowers followed up by brief phone call to express condolences is the best way to handle the situation.

About the Author

Based in MedellĂ­n, Colombia, Maryanne Schiffman has a B.A. in economic development from UC Berkeley and an M.A. in Latin American studies from the University of Texas. Writing for more than 20 years, she has contributed to academic journals and online publications, including the Colombian NTN24 news website.

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