A 1939 guide to Arranging and Recording Flowers

funeral_flowers_churchI love old etiquette books, and I found one at a second-hand store last week. This is the prime Emily Post Etiquette, published first in 1927, with this latest edition from 1939. The bonus with this book is that Ms. Post devotes an entire chapter to funerals, so you may hear more about funeral etiquette from the early twentieth century over the upcoming weeks.

This particular entry regards flowers — specifically, the arranging and recording of flowers for a Protestant church funeral. You’ll soon discover that florists today take on many tasks assigned to friends in the past (pg 490):

An hour before the time for the service, if the family is Protestant, one or two woman friends got to the church to arrange the flowers which are placed about the chancel. If the flowers are many, these friends should, if possible, have the assistance of a florist, because the effective grouping and the fastening of heavy wreaths and sprays is likely to overtax the skill of novices, no matter how perfect their taste may be. Whoever takes charge of the flowers must carefully collect all the notes and cards. Also, they should always supply themselves with screw-point pencils, because the points of wood pencils break easily. On the outside of each envelope they write a description of the flowers that the card was sent with, as, for example:

“Large spray of Easter lilies and palm branches tied with white ribbon.”
“Laurel wreath with gardenias.”
“Long shear of pink roses and white lilies.”

Without such notations the family has no way of knowing anything about the flowers chosen by friends whom they especially care for. Moreover, these descriptions will identify the senders of the flowers when notes of thanks are sent.

The chancel, for those uninitiated in Protestant church architecture, is the area around the altar, often enclosed by a lattice or railing. Ms. Post uses this term to avoid stating that the flowers should be arranged around the casket (if this is a traditional burial), which also is placed in the chancel.

That aside, the advice about marking the flowers is a good idea, especially if you want to send thank-you notes to those who sent flowers. Unfortunately, Ms. Post had no entry that dealt with flowers that might be sent, despite instructions to send money to charity instead. I would think, given the heartfelt manner of the gift, that a thank-you note would be appropriate anyway.

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