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Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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funerals, or death rites, have historically been associated with foods that carry symbolic meaning. For the departed, sweet food and drink might be a necessary ingredient on the route to a successful afterlife, whether buried with them (as in the fruits found in ancient Egyptian burials, or the wine in Celtic graves of around 500 b.c.e.); left with the body by mourners as offerings (as in Ming and Song dynasty funerals in China); or ceremonially prepared and eaten in the presence of the dead person to ensure that his or her spirit departs in peace (as in ancient Greece). Throughout history funeral or wake food has operated as an important marker of the departed’s status and respectability within the community, a convivial, generous gesture sent from beyond the grave. For the living, food may serve a specific ritual purpose, or it may simply be there to sustain emotionally and physically exhausted mourners who have stayed up all night at a wake or traveled a long distance to attend the funeral. In some rituals, sweet foods and drinks in particular play symbolic and practical roles, whether sustaining the living or appeasing the dead.