A wake is the process of laying out the body of a departed relative in the house and watching over them from the time of death until the body is conveyed to the care of the church. The body will usually be laid out in the parlour or living room of the deceased’s home. Family, friends and neighbours attend. Typically a large amount of food and drink is consumed over the period of mourning.
So where did it all come about? Well the true origins of the wake are foggy but it appears to date back to an ancient Jewish custom of leaving the sepulchre (burial chamber, vault, tomb, or grave) of the deceased open for three days before finally closing it up. This time allows family members to visit, which they typically did in the hope of seeing signs of a return to life.
Of course the Irish have to throw their own slant on it and it usually involves drink. A story that is more than likely a myth is also doing the rounds as to the origins of the Irish wake. Often drinkers who drank from pewter tankards would suffer (frequently) from lead poisoning and a symptom of this poisoning would be a catatonic state causing the person to appear dead only for them to recover or awaken a few hours or days later!
Typically a wake is a time for celebration of the deceased’s time on earth and an opportunity to say farewell to loved ones. It can be a sad affair but also an uplifting service marking the deceased, their life and sending them onto their next journey with goodwill and love.