In our culturally diverse world, we are often faced with the death of our colleagues’ and friends’ relatives who often come from different religious backgrounds than our own. Though many of us feel comfortable responding to the loss by sending out a condolence card, we may be hesitant to do more because of uncertainty as to what is considered proper sympathy etiquette under these circumstances. Indeed, giving a gift as an expression of sympathy has a different connotation in each religion. Below is some information on a variety of religions that can be used as a guide when offering sympathy:
- Catholic – Sympathy can be expressed appropriately with a Mass card, a floral arrangement, a donation to a charity in the deceased’s name, or food for the grieving family.
- Protestant – The same gifts are appropriate as for Catholics with the exception of Mass cards.
- Jewish – Donations to charity are appropriate, but flowers should not be sent. A gift of food or a visit is appropriate during Shivah, which is the week of mourning spent at the grieving family’s home. It is important to note that if the family keeps kosher, then only kosher foods are appropriate.
- Buddhist – Food gifts should not be given, however, money given to the family or flowers is appropriate.
- Hindu – A gift of fruit for the family is the appropriate gift.
- Shinto – The tradition is to give used money to the family in an envelope decorated in black and silver. Gifts of food and red flowers are not acceptable; white flowers are considered the appropriate mourning flower.
- Eastern Orthodox – The Eastern Orthodox religion follows a strict three day period of mourning. White flowers are considered meaningful if received during this period.
- Greek Orthodox – Contributions to a charity or specified fund is acceptable.
- Mormon – Sending flowers during the mourning period is appreciated, but flowers shaped into a cross are considered offensive.
- Taoism – Sending white flowers is acceptable as white is the color of mourning, but sending red flowers is never appropriate because red is the color of happiness. Often gifts of money or symbols of money are placed with the deceased.
- Islam – Food gifts such as fruit, baked goods, or easy meals that can be heated are welcome, but flowers should never be sent.
- Pentecostal – Food is appreciated by the family at their home during the mourning period, but flowers can be sent to the funeral home.
- Seventh Day Adventist – Food or flowers should be sent to the home after the funeral. Donations to charities are considered inappropriate.
- Sikhism – Food is an appropriate gift to express condolences, but not if it contains alcohol, eggs, fish, or meat. Flowers are also appreciated.
Although appropriate sympathy gifts vary with different cultures and religions, the gift of friendship and offering to help is always appropriate. The sending of written condolences in a sympathy card or note card will certainly be appreciated by the family.