Primarily an Irish custom though not uncommon in other Gaelic nations. The Wake is considered an integral part of the grieving process after the death of a loved one. Family, friends neighbours and the community in general, gather in the house of the deceased to 'Wake' the body.

The term 'Wake' is widely believed to come from the time when stout was served in lead lined cruscáns. It sometimes occured that a person would suffer severe lead poisoning after drinking from these. The body would, temporarily, go into a death like state, after a certain amount of time the body recovers. It was traditional, therefore, that if the cause of death could not be explained, the family would place the body in the house and hope for the person to Wake up!!(Obviously at the time there was no understanding of what was causing the body to display these death-like symptoms)

Traditional Wake

The body is usually placed in a coffin (an open casket if possible) in a room in the house, the body is not to be left alone from this point until it is removed to the church for burial. It was the job of the women in the community to prepare the body to be "laid out".

Once the body is prepared properly it is time for the keening to start, this consists of the women present crying and wailing. Legend has it that this keening will keep the spirits away until the body could be removed. At some point in the proceedings the rosary will be said.

At the wake there will nearly always be large amounts of food and particularly drink and after a while there will be Irish dancing and games - in celebration of the life of the deceased. The Church has, in the past, made moves to discourage this behaviour, to no avail.

Modern Wake

The Modern Wake is very similar to the traditional wake but differs in certain areas. Firstly, an Undertaker will prepare the body, not the communities women, secondly it is very rare to hear the traditional keening at a modern wake - although it does occur. The wake tends to be a far less religiously oriented occasion, it is more about giving the family and friends time to say goodbye. However, as with the traditional wake, the rosary is usually said at some stage.

There is, of course, still plenty of drink and food but the traditional dancing rarely occurs. The whole affair tends to be less structured, with people just tending to chat and drink until early morning.

American Wake

During the Irish Diaspora (around the time of the Great Famine) as millions left the country, the tradition of the American Wake started. On the evening before a person was to depart (usually to America) a wake like party would be held to bid them farewell. In the majority of cases of emigration, the departee would never be seen again by his family and friends, hence the link to the Wake.

22nd July '04 skow has informed me that wakes are in fact not strictly a Gaelic tradition, they are also performed in Germany and The Netherlands.


The voice peels back his sleep. The window shimmies up with a rattle. The next syllables manifest behind his sternum. His heart beats itself against the words. Whirring. A hot blur of teeth, like an animal gnawing off a paw. An Offering to the Trap left behind. A price paid.

"Samuel, I've been watching you."

She is perched at the end of the bed, thumbing through his journal. She flips back and forth until she hits the desired entry.

"Now, Samuel. You know this simply isn't True."

She bends back the spine of the composition book. Spreads her fingers to force the pages open and holds it up for him to see. He raises up onto his elbows. It is too dark to see what she means.

"You know I don't like it when you lie."

She snaps his journal shut. The prisms hanging in the window clatter against the glass. He says,

"I don't want to be dreaming this anymore."

"Then Wake."

* * * * *

He is on the subway. The faces flashing by on the platform are yellow in the subway light. Yellow as the glamour of Heroin. A horse in a needle, kicking bruises through the doorway vein, up into the skin above. A hundred little hoofprints. The mark of the miniature Mustang, Untamed as Addiction.

Into the tunnel. Here there is no Night and no Morning. The time is measured by the flow of people. Out of the tunnel. Faces flashing by again on the platform. More miners down the shaft.


She is in the seats across from him. Stretched full length. He asks,

"Why yellow?"

"I'm the canary in the mineshaft, Samuel."

"Can you breathe?"

"No, Samuel. I'm dying like you."

* * * * *

He winches the net full of Sirens into the boat. He has caught three. He will harvest their hearts and sell them to billionaires over seas. A delicacy. A fisherman of ability, he lures two more to the edge of the rock with the sound of a man in Need. Then draws them into the net with the languageless cry of drowning children.

"Samuel. What's become of your sails?"

"There are no sails. The wind didn't take me where I wanted to be. Now I use a motor."

She settles on the prow.

"Samuel. She told herself that it would know no grief or disappointment. Nothing of The World. No birth. Just Love. Then Death. She said all the things one has to, in order to kill what one Loves. Are you pleased, Samuel? You've caught five today."

Samuel says nothing.

She stands and walks the lip of the boat. Arms out for balance. Toes pointed. She says,

"When she was little, she didn't understand why the people her mother called, 'colored,' only came in brown. She asked her mother, loudly on the bus, why this was. When she heard in church that Christ was coming, she thought the Preacher meant, 'any minute now.' So, whenever anyone knocked at the door, she hid in the cupboard under the stairs in case it was Him. She thought He would be angry. Isn't it funny, the things little girls think?"

She completes her circuit of the boat and hops down lightly onto the deck. She squats down next to the Sirens.

"Samuel. Don't you ever get holes in the net?"

* * * * *

"How many does this make now, Samuel?"


"Are you certain?"


"You're mistaken. The second one, with that second woman, didn't belong to you."

"That's not true."

"Come now, Samuel. Would I lie to you? You know as well as I do that you'd rather be deceived than admit being wrong. If it had happened to anyone else but you, it would have been the first thing you asked."

She is clicking wafers of stone in her hand. She takes two steps closer to the shore and skips one across the water. It jumps three times and sinks. She says,

"It works better if you do it this way," and walks out onto the surface of the water and skips another stone. It leaps five times. "See? Do you want to try?"

"I can't walk on water."

"Don't be silly. Everybody can. Christ explained how to do it."

"No, He didn't."

"Yes, He did. It's just that No One wrote that part down.

* * * * *

"How is she, Samuel?"

They are standing next to a crooked tree. The sky is blue as the eyes of a Baptist Christ.

"She locks herself in the bathroom. I can hear her talking to herself."

"She's not talking to herself, Samuel. She's talking to me."

"Why would she be talking to you?"

"Why shouldn't she? She's my Mother."

"You're my daughter?"

She laughs and walks to the tree.

"Watch, Samuel."

She grips the trunk with both hands and rattles it. Fruit patters down onto the ground around her. She says,

"If you shake the tree, the ripe fruit will fall at your feet."

She bends down and gathers the fruit into the fold of her skirt. He says,

"Are you my daughter?"

"Now, Samuel. I believe you already decided that. Look. I've gathered up the fruit for you. Do you want it?"

" I don't have a way to carry it."

"It must not be worth having, then."

She snaps her skirt, and the fruit is catapulted skyward. Samuel tilts his head back to see where the fruit has gone, because it fails to come down again. She snaps her fingers to get his attention and says,

"I have a joke for you:

They are standing in a circle to stone the woman. Christ says, 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.' A woman from the mob, hefts a boulder and flattens the woman in the center of the circle. And then Christ says, 'Godammit, Mom.'

Look up, Samuel."

Samuel looks up. The fruit has turned to stones that are hammering back down out of the sky. He drops to the ground and curls into himself. He says,


She squats down in the grass next to him and whispers,

"If it wasn't the life you wanted, Samuel. You shouldn't have chosen it."

A country feast, commonly on the anniversary of the tutelar saint of the village, that is, the saint to whom the parish church is dedicated. Also a custom of watching the dead, called Late Wake, in use both in Ireland and Wales, where the corpse being deposited under a table, with a plate of salt on its breast, the table is covered with liquor of all sorts; and the guests, particularly, the younger part of them, amuse themselves with all kinds of pastimes and recreations: the consequence is generally more than replacing the departed friend.

The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

Wake (?), n. [Originally, an open space of water srrounded by ice, and then, the passage cut through ice for a vessel, probably of Scand. origin; cf. Icel. vok a hole, opening in ice, Sw. vak, Dan. vaage, perhaps akin to E. humid.]

The track left by a vessel in the water; by extension, any track; as, the wake of an army.

This effect followed immediately in the wake of his earliest exertions. De Quincey.

Several humbler persons . . . formed quite a procession in the dusty wake of his chariot wheels. Thackeray.


© Webster 1913.

Wake, v. i. [imp. & p. p. Waked (?) or Woke (); p. pr. & vb. n. Waking.] [AS. wacan, wacian; akin to OFries. waka, OS. wakn, D. waken, G. wachen, OHG. wahhn, Icel. vaka, Sw. vaken, Dan. vaage, Goth. wakan, v. i., uswakjan, v. t., Skr. vajay to rouse, to impel. . Cf. Vigil, Wait, v. i., Watch, v. i.]


To be or to continue awake; to watch; not to sleep.

The father waketh for the daughter. Ecclus. xlii. 9.

Though wisdom wake, suspicion sleeps. Milton.

I can not think any time, waking or sleeping, without being sensible of it. Locke.


To sit up late festive purposes; to hold a night revel.

The king doth wake to-night, and takes his rouse, Keeps wassail, and the swaggering upspring reels. Shak.


To be excited or roused from sleep; to awake; to be awakened; to cease to sleep; -- often with up.

He infallibly woke up at the sound of the concluding doxology. G. Eliot.


To be exited or roused up; to be stirred up from a dormant, torpid, or inactive state; to be active.

Gentle airs due at their hour To fan the earth now waked. Milton.

Then wake, my soul, to high desires. Keble.


© Webster 1913.

Wake (?), v. t.


To rouse from sleep; to awake.

The angel . . . came again and waked me. Zech. iv. 1.


To put in motion or action; to arouse; to excite.

"I shall waken all this company."


Lest fierce remembrance wake my sudden rage. Milton.

Even Richard's crusade woke little interest in his island realm. J. R. Green.


To bring to life again, as if from the sleep of death; to reanimate; to revive.

To second life Waked in the renovation of the just. Milton.


To watch, or sit up with, at night, as a dead body.


© Webster 1913.

Wake, n.


The act of waking, or being awaked; also, the state of being awake.

[Obs. or Poetic]

Making such difference 'twixt wake and sleep. Shak.

Singing her flatteries to my morning wake. Dryden.


The state of forbearing sleep, especially for solemn or festive purposes; a vigil.

The warlike wakes continued all the night, And funeral games played at new returning light. Dryden.

The wood nymphs, decked with daises trim, Their merry wakes and pastimes keep. Milton.

3. Specifically: (a) Ch. of Eng.

An annual parish festival formerly held in commemoration of the dedication of a church. Originally, prayers were said on the evening preceding, and hymns were sung during the night, in the church; subsequently, these vigils were discontinued, and the day itself, often with succeeding days, was occupied in rural pastimes and exercises, attended by eating and drinking, often to excess.

Great solemnities were made in all churches, and great fairs and wakes throughout all England. Ld. Berners.

And every village smokes at wakes with lusty cheer. Drayton.


The sitting up of persons with a dead body, often attended with a degree of festivity, chiefly among the Irish.

"Blithe as shepherd at a wake."


Wake play, the ceremonies and pastimes connected with a wake. See Wake, n., 3 (b), above. [Obs.]



© Webster 1913.

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