Britain’s most bonkers tradition? The Straw Bear Festival
SCENE – A village wedding. Church bells. Assorted villagers have assembled at the lych gate waiting for a glimpse of the bride. They are joined by a TOURIST who happily happens to speak perfect English.
VILLAGER: There she is! Just coming round the corner now. Ooh, it’s a Rolls!
TOURIST: Who’s that walking in front of it? That person in the Tudor costume and the three-cornered hat and, what’s that, a mace?
VILLAGER: That’s the wedding organiser.
TOURIST: Why is she walking in front of the car?
VILLAGER: It’s the way it’s done in this country. The wedding organiser walks in front of the car.
TOURIST: But why?
VILLAGER: Oh, ah… tradition. Yes, it’s always been done that way. It’s the way we do it.
TOURIST: But a wedding is not about the wedding organiser –
VILLAGER: Oh, look at that dress! Doesn’t she look lovely! And look, there’s the bride!
The Great British Tradition whereby a funeral director walks in front of, or ‘pages’, a hearse is a well-loved custom stretching back to the heraldic funeral processions of the middle ages. Well, not really. Actually, they didn’t have funeral directors then, it was the Head of the College of Arms who would walk in front of the cortege. No, ah, paging is a lot more recent. There are several schools of thought about where it originated… and little chance of a consensus. Nowadays, it’s a ‘mark of respect’, that’s what it is. Will that do?
It is undeniably a good look.
Yes it is, and I think it is capable of adaptation. If funeral directors were to suggest to families that one or more of them might like to undertake this role instead, I wonder what the uptake would be.
What would be the point?
In a word, empowerment.
Why is it important to empower bereaved people at a funeral?
So that they can go home feeling proud of themselves. If a funeral is to be a valuable event, they need to feel proud they did their bit.
Would this not take away from the status of the funeral director?
Wrong question. Would it add value to the funeral? Yes, I think so. No one ever went wrong who sought to empower the bereaved. The trick is to find them things to do that they’re comfortable with.
But the job of a funeral director is to take all possible burdens from their families.
I respectfully disagree. The job of a funeral director is to organise an event where bereaved people can do good grief work. They can’t do that if they’re spectators. I repeat: they need to go home feeling they played their part in giving the person who died a good send-off. So, I say: ask not what you can do for the bereaved; ask what the bereaved can do for themselves.
Well, I don’t know that I’d want to be a funeral director if you took paging away from me.
Look, I may be wrong, I acknowledge that. But right now I do absolutely believe that you guys have got to stop obsessing about the price of funerals and start looking for ways to add value to them. You can do that in ways that cost nothing. This may be one.