wake, watch kept over a dead body, usually during the night preceding burial. Ancient peoples in various parts of the world observed the custom. As an ancient ritual, it was rooted in a concern that no person should be buried alive. After it was adopted by Christians and as it is practiced today, the wake serves the primary purpose of allowing friends and relatives of the deceased an opportunity to adjust collectively to the changed conditions. Typically there are traditional songs and laments. Prayers for the deceased and eating and drinking by the assembled mourners are features of the wake. Wakes may vary from part of one night to three nights in length. See funeral customs.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.