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Dutch Funerals

Updated: Apr 3

by William Minnick

Did you know that traditional Dutch funerals are not much different from the ones we hold in Dutch-American communities? Well in some ways!

With the Netherlands being once a very religious country, many rituals were taken while saying goodbye to deceased loved ones. For instance, funerals were usually held in the deceased loved one's home. Mirrors were covered with sheets, photos and paintings were turned toward the wall, clocks stopped, windows and doors propped open and immediate and distant family gathered in their Sunday best. They sat together in the presence of the coffin.

Before the Dominee (pastor) began his sermon, the women helped each other into their rouwdracht (mourning dress).

Women closely related to the deceased carried a bundle of white cloth. Wrapped in it was a "huik" or large piece of black cloth that covers the women from head to toe, allowing for only a small slit to look through. Those women more distantly related only wore a "beppekaper" or a black cap to cover their Sunday cap.

During this time the pastor spoke, read scripture and prayed. This time is much like today, where the family of the deceased gather at the funeral home with the pastor for a small prayer service before finally laying the deceased to rest at the cemetery.

After the pastor wrapped up his teachings, the coffin was closed and the body was exited out the front door of the house. This simple exit is symbolized as "trouw-en rouwdeur" (the wedding and mourning door). The entering of the house after a marriage symbolized a new beginning while the coffin exiting through the front door symbolized an end.

Neighbors were usually outside the house with a team of horses and a wagon to carry the coffin to the cemetery. Behind the wagon followed the men of the family, then the closest female relatives covered in their black covering, and finally more distant female relatives.

Women from the community watched from the house and as the family walked in procession to the cemetery. Those women busily brewed tea and assembled ham buns for the begrafenismaal (funeral meal) upon the family's return. This meal was simple, no plates, knives or forks were used. Not even a tablecloth was set.

At the cemetery, the coffin was lowered into the ground. The family members each took turns covering the coffin with dirt and the pastor read the first verse of Psalm 118, "Give Thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever."

As the family processed back to the house, the pallbearers closed up the grave.

Before the funeral meal, those who were in coverings took off this symbol of mourning. At the house, tea was first served followed by ham buns. Everybody sat and visited, remembering and telling stories about the deceased.

In Dutch-American communities, glimpses of this tradition remain. Ham buns, funeral meals, and coffee circles still prevail. This tradition is no longer practiced in the Netherlands. Instead, secular services and memorial services are more common. But both honor those who passed and bring up comforting memories for those who are mourning.

Early footage of a traditional Dutch funeral:

Woman wearing "beppekaper", Noord-Holland.

Woman in "huik", Huizen, 1945

Traditional "huik" of Limburg, 1950

Women in "huit", Noord Holland, ca. 1700

Woman in mourning clothing, Friesland, ca. 1780


Nederlands Openluchtmuseum

William Minnick is a recent graduate of Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. He holds a degree in history and public relations. Having grown up in Orange City, Minnick was immersed in community affairs, particularly in events promoting Dutch heritage through the Tulip Festival, and has taken a special interest in Dutch cultural and historical studies. Today, he is a contributing writer for the Dutch Heritage Booster's blog page and aids in the running of the organization's social media and marketing.


Apr 04

Interesting and this is new to me. Am glad that women are not covered up like that anymore.

Have to chuckle about the ham buns, and yes that is indeed still served after a memorial/ celebration of life service here in Canada too, but also other things. Ham buns are easy to prepare and not messy. I vaguely remember people walking ( in black) behind the coffin in Holland, but that was more in rural areas I think. Thank you for posting this.


Mar 19

So very interesting to read about the similarities and where these traditions originated! Thanks for writing this, William.

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