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Funeral Trends and Traditions

August 2018

In every culture, when someone dies, some form of funeral practice will be observed. It is recognised that as Britain is multicultural, there will be several funeral rites and practices. This paper will focus on Christian and Civil practices.

Caring for the body.

In the past, the care and preparation of the body was predominantly undertaken by females. These women were known as ‘lay women’ and were usually the town or villages local midwives. Amongst other things, the lay women would undress and wash the body, redress the body and, if necessary they would place pennies on the eyelids. Today this tradition is continued, however the role is not gender specific.

For many years it was customary for the deceased to be cared for and watched over at home until the disposal of the body. This attentiveness towards the deceased person’s body changed towards the end of the nineteenth century. It followed concerns that dead bodies were unhygienic. Instead of the dead remaining with the living, people began to segregate the dead.

Moves were made to introduce public mortuaries to address this, but the mortuaries were often attached to workhouses and usually held the unknown deceased, those who had died in suspicious circumstances or those who had committed suicide. As a result, they quickly became associated as being a mark of shame and were hugely unpopular.

Undertakers were able to capitalise on the situation and for an extra fee, for those who could afford it, they offered facilities to keep the dead away from home and from the stigma and unpopularity of the public mortuaries. Many undertakers also provided a place for families to visit their loved one now they were no longer resting at home. The undertakers chapel of rest was developed in the late Victorian era and allowed those who wished to see their loved ones, do so.

In 1936 approximately 90% of bodies were kept at home between their death and disposal. Today that figure is approximately 5 - 8%. There are though, pockets of the British Isles where the practice of keeping loved ones at home, has remained and is on the increase.

With the change in practice of not keeping the deceased at home, some of the other long standing, associated practices also ceased to be observed. These included the covering of mirrors, stopping of clocks and blacking out windows. (covering mirrors and windows meant the deceased image did not get trapped in the glass) (not stopping the clock in the ‘death room’ was said to bring more bad luck)

When it came to the disposal of the body, burial had been the preferred means. Even though cremation had been available in 1900, not even 1% of the population were cremated. The figure today is over 75%

In the last 20 years, more and more people have been taking custom and ceremony into their own hands and are able to be very creative and inventive.

2018 trends and practices – This year has seen the trend for ‘personalisation’ become more common place. Creative funerals that included everything from personalised vehicles for final journeys, to ashes in fireworks, records and tattoos have been on the increase. In our more secular society the desire to have a ceremony that celebrates the life of the person who has died, rather than mourn the death has risen greatly. Other trends this year included ‘green’ developments, such as woodland burials, and memorial trees in place of conventional headstones. Themed and colourful funerals and coffins have grown, as has the desire for memorial items and ashes to trees. Virtual memorial gardens, live streaming of the funeral service, advance planning of every aspect of the funeral, and increased awareness of the option for direct cremation, followed by a memorial service has seen a steady increase.

So, what trends can we expect in 2019,2020?

With rising funeral costs, the time restrictions around a cremation service and, as more people become aware of direct cremation, it is highly likely this trend will grow in popularity. Memorial gatherings, occurring sometime after the burial or cremation, have noticeably increased, both in number and significance. A memorial service is designed to celebrate the life of the person in a way that is not generally possible at a funeral. Many people are seeking ‘bespoke events’, in places of special meaning that are personal to their loved one. The trend for celebrating life, rather than mourning death, seems set to remain. With significantly more people choosing civil celebrants and humanists to lead the ceremony, the current practice of funeral directors ‘suggesting’ the best celebrant/humanist, is expected to move towards families (independently) seeking the right person for them.

The number of people seeking a home or DIY funeral looks set to rise and with that, some level of a return to the deceased resting at home. Memorial items look at becoming as unique and individual as the person, with ashes into jewellery also becoming more popular. The demand for green funerals, eco friendly urns and ‘second use’ floral tributes are also set to rise.

Alternatives to the traditional hearse to take people on their final journey, themed and colourful funerals, picture and themed coffins as well as flat packed coffins may also see an increase as more people seek to truly personalise every aspect of the funeral.

As can be seen, modern civil and Christian funeral practices, rather than dwelling on the sorrow and bleakness of death, are increasingly focusing on the positive — celebrating and being thankful for the life.

wanda barnard, celebrant, weddings

The Wedding Celebrant Trend

June 2018

In recent months, the trend for couples wanting ‘more’ when it comes to their wedding ceremony has steadily grown. Couples wanting a more meaningful, bespoke, more personalised ceremony and one that puts them at the heart of things, turn to an independent celebrant. Hiring a celebrant to work with them allows couples to plan for a ceremony that is fitting for them and free from the restraints of the formal, legal ceremony. Even though civil ceremonies, organised with the local register office at a licensed venue remain popular, the highly sought-after opportunity to personalise the ceremony remains restricted. These restrictions are largely due to the sheer volume of weddings and lack of resources, resulting in couples only being able to choose from two or three, pre-designed ceremonies.

Favouring working with celebrants, couples enjoy the time they spend planning with their celebrant and the fact that they also get to know them well. They like it that a celebrant has the expertise to write a moving, soul stirring, amusing ceremony which is brimming with their personalities and uniqueness. Couples hiring independent celebrants regularly express their delight at being able to share the story of their love with their family and friends, as well as the freedom it gives them to write their own wedding vows.

At this point it should be noted that a celebrant-led ceremony is NOT a legal ceremony. However, many couples choose to have their legal ceremony in a simple, no frills way, with just the required witnesses at their local registry office. Sometimes, couples marry abroad and upon returning home, they will hire a celebrant, so they can share their symbolic wedding ceremony with family and friends.

Working with a celebrant often means couples will have access to the celebrant’s vast poetry, music and readings library. Symbolic actions can be incorporated within the wedding ceremony and include everything from symbolic hand fasting to loving cups. Couples are also seeking a more inclusive, intimate and relaxed ceremony at venues offering a more informal ceremonial area. In their desire for greater choice over what is their special day, couples are also looking to venues to embrace this trend.

Here are a few ideas for venues -

Make sure you are up to date with the direction couples are heading.

Have promotional material showcasing the intimacy or your venue.

Have a preferred suppliers list that includes a local celebrant.

Establish good working relationships with local independent celebrants – the vast majority of whom, will be happy to talk to you about how to make the most of your venue.

Work with your local preferred wedding suppliers and host a wedding fayre.

Wedding trends, like all trends, come and go. But this one looks set not only to stay, but to thrive.

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What Does a Celebrant do

May 2018

In simple terms a celebrant is someone who has trained to provide you with a 'custom made' ceremony for a whole range of occasions, including Weddings, Vow Renewal, Naming Ceremonies and Funeral Services.

Weddings - When you choose a celebrant for your wedding ceremony you are allowing yourself the freedom to be creative and I will help you develop your ideas. I will manage and co-ordinate all aspects of your ceremony, be there to support you on the day and will conduct your ceremony with sincerity and warmth, in front of your guests. If you wish to include religious content, prayers or hymns, just ask, it is my job to help you enjoy your day.

It is important to know that wedding celebrants in England are not permitted to perform the 'contractual' marriage ceremony. You would need to obtain your marriage licence at a Registry Office where, during a short civil ceremony, you would make a 32 word Declaration and Marriage Contract, in front of two witnesses. Quite often, couples choosing a celebrant will book a 'standard' ceremony, at the Registry Office on a weekday. Many couples will also save the exchanging of their rings for the celebration ceremony, as it is not a mandatory part of the Register Office ceremony. Your celebrant-led wedding celebration ceremony will have no restrictions in terms of location, time, format or content.

Fees - Registry fees vary but for a standard ceremony they are often between £50 and £80. Of course if the ceremony takes place at a licenced venue, then the cost will be much greater and can be up to 11 times the standard fee.

As it is still a civil ceremony and is incorporated in Law, it must be performed in exactly the same format as the Registry Office. For couples looking for more choice, more flexibility, and something more personal, as a celebrant I can really help make sure your day is as unique as you are.

By separating the “legal” from the “celebratory” you are free to have a truly personalised wedding ceremony, allowing you to be where you should be, at it's centre. You will be fully involved in, creating a ceremony which can be as traditional or modern as you like and without restrictions. When it comes to your vows, they can be traditional or created by you, for you. You will not need to follow any standard words and if you wish to write your own vows, I will be there to advise and guide you. You might also like to say your vows in a favourite place? not a problem! You could make your promises to each other in a forest, in your garden, on a boat, at the beach or almost any where you wish. Your special day is written for you and about you, making it totally different from anyone else’s wedding ceremony!

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Dying to go Green

October, 2018

With the continued increase in celebration of life ceremonies, it makes sense that funerals are becoming as personal as any other event in life. Alongside this movement towards celebrations of life funerals, more and more people are seeking 'nature friendly' 'green' options for the loved ones cremated remains. When it comes to deciding what to do with a loved one’s ashes, returning them to nature is increasingly sought after.

Woodland burials and woodland interments are on the increase and with the growing number of ‘green’ urns in the marketplace, people now have far greater choice. For anyone seeking a more natural, ecological option, a good choice is the ‘living memorial’. These come mostly in the form of tree urns and are made of natural materials. Bio urns are one example. These biodegradable tree urns come in a variety of sizes and shapes and some come with a choice of seeds. The urns can be put directly into the ground or placed in a large container. The pot containing the living memory tree can then grow and move with the family. Tree urns turn death into a transformation of returning to life, through nature. As the artist, Edvard Munch said ‘’From my body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity’’.

Woollen, wicker, cardboard urns, scatter tubes and boxes also add to the list of environmentally friendly products. There are paper mache urns ranging from the from basic unpainted as it comes urn, to the beautifully sculpted and decorated.

For those looking to lay their loved one’s ashes to rest in water, biodegradable, soluble urns are a great way of ‘being at one’ with nature. When submerged, or buried along the shoreline, these environmentally friendly urns gently dissolve.

With this growing number of eco-friendly urns - for those dying to go green, doing so has now become much easier.


Wanda Barnard     *    Telephone: 07732113521       *    Email: [email protected]

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