The Strange Massachusetts Law That Limits Sandwiches At Funerals

As a part of New England, Massachusetts has a reasonably distinct cuisine. It's fitting the Commonwealth's nicknames include monikers such as "The Baked Bean State" and "The Codfish State," considering local produce and fresh seafood are both essential ingredients often found in the best foods and drinks of Massachusetts. Dairy, meat, and sweets are also typical, despite a lack of relevant nicknames. Much of this is due to the Commonwealth's environment and its inhabitants — indigenous peoples, puritanical colonists, and modern immigrants.

Boiling and steaming are two especially Massachusettsan styles of cooking. Specific dishes characteristic of the Commonwealth include apple cider, Boston baked beans, clam chowder, johnnycakes, and maple candies. When it comes to New England sandwiches (and we're not talking about the town of Sandwich, Massachusetts), many of the same culinary components can be found in examples like the lobster roll. Getting more specific, though, what does Massachusetts' funerary food look like?

Massachusettsan mourners may only eat three sandwiches

The food served at a funeral or wake, if any, largely depends on the local culture. However, affordability and convenience might take precedence over sentiment, leading to customs like buffets, caterers, and potlucks. Make-your-own-sandwich tables are but one prime example of these practices. So, if you find yourself at a Massachusettsan funeral, can you comfort yourself with sympathy food sandwich after sandwich?

According to one oft-repeated factoid on the internet, the Commonwealth's mourners must stop eating after their third sandwich. All sorts of sources, from local news stations like WSBS to multimedia companies like Boston Globe Media Partners and even legal experts like the Law Office of Susan Castleton Ryan, claim the same thing: It's a crime for mourners to eat more than three sandwiches at a wake held in Massachusetts. Strangely, though, there seem to be no specific details or background story mentioned whenever this bit of trivia is cited. A search for 'sandwich' in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' digital database of legal information doesn't turn up anything funerary in nature, either. Is this just some hoax or simply a poorly documented yet well-known state restriction?

All funerary food was once banned in the Commonwealth

Ultimately, we leave it up to Massachusetts' lawyers to give funerary legal advice. However, it's worth noting that a somewhat related law once existed in Massachusetts. As reported by Boston Magazine, for a long time, funeral homes could not allow any food whatsoever to be served during wakes due to health concerns. Evidently, lawmakers did not want refreshments to be put out near dead bodies or embalming chemicals. Some recent lawmakers found that rule overly restrictive since it prevented those grieving from accessing edible comforts.

When it was proposed this regulation be altered, many funeral home directors expressed disapproval, per the Telegram & Gazette. Some did not wish to be in charge of food and beverage, while others felt serving it was disrespectful. "You aren't supposed to be walking up to a casket with a sandwich in one hand, sucking on a coffee in another," one funeral director claimed. Still, as noted by a 2016 New York Times piece, new guidelines eventually passed into law, letting some food and drink be served.

It would be odd to restrict how many sandwiches Massachusettsan mourners can eat at a wake if funeral food was already outlawed. Perhaps this sandwich restriction is part of the new regulations? Regardless, as tasty as New England sandwiches may be, it's probably not very respectful to stuff one's face full of them at a solemn affair.