Why Is A Wake Called A Wake?

Death has been a part of life since the beginning of time; it is usually a time of sadness, but it is also a time of remembrance, sometimes celebration. We use the term “wake” to refer to the period of time before a funeral service in which members of the late person’s family and friends gather to pay their last respects.

This can be an ancient tradition, but why is it called a ‘wake’? In this article, we are going to explore the history behind the term and its implications for today’s bereaved.

Why is a Wake Called a Wake?

The term “wake” is derived from the Old English word “wacian”, which means “to watch” or “to be awake”.

Traditionally, a wake was held in the hours after the death of a loved one, when family and friends would gather to stay up all night to keep vigil and remember the life that was lost.

Historical Meaning of Wakes

Historically, wakes were both a way to honor the dead and a way to comfort the bereaved. In Medieval times, wakes were encouraged so that friends and family could “watch the body” for several nights in a row, in case of any supernatural activities or visitations from the deceased’s soul.

Gradually, wakes evolved into a more social event, where the deceased could receive a proper farewell from everyone in attendance.

Modern Day Wakes

Today, wakes are less about supernatural superstition and more about family and friends gathering to honor the deceased’s life and legacy. In many cultures, wakes have evolved into a combination of a memorial service and celebration of life.

It is a time to reflect on the fond memories shared by those who knew and loved the deceased, and to offer support to the family. Wakes are still celebrated around the world and can range from deeply religious rituals to secular celebrations.

These gatherings may take the form of a memorial service, a benefit, or an old-fashioned Irish wake with food and music. Regardless of the particular style of wake, the purpose remains the same — to honor the deceased and offer support to the survivors.


The term “wake” is derived from the Old English word “wacian”, which means “to watch” or “to be awake”.

It was originally used to refer to the gathering of family and friends who stayed up all night keeping vigil over the body of the deceased. Over time, wakes have evolved into a more social event, where people can share fond memories of the deceased and offer their support to the survivors.

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