Funeral Planning

What is a humanist funeral?

· 5 min read

From Tibetan sky burials to the Torajan decades’ long goodbyes, we all treat funerals differently. With church attendance in the UK at less than 900,000 each week, and only 10% of people telling Co-op Funeralcare they want a religious send off, what’s the alternative?


From Tibetan sky burials to the Torajan decades’ long goodbyes, we all treat funerals differently. With church attendance in the UK at less than 900,000 each week, and only 10% of people telling Co-op Funeralcare they want a religious send off, what’s the alternative?

A non-religious funeral is also called a humanist funeral. You don’t have to get on board with any particular beliefs; humanism just means that people come before spiritual or supernatural ideas.

Thinking of going down the non-religious route for your funeral? You’ve probably got a few questions about the details. In our guide to what a humanist funeral is, we’ll be going through:

  • The laws about funerals in the UK.
  • An order of service for a humanist funeral.
  • Music for funerals that aren’t hymns.
  • The right clothing for a humanist funeral.
  • Burials outside a church graveyard.

What are the laws on funerals in the UK?While weddings have quite a few laws about the where and the who, there are no such restrictions on funerals in the UK. A funeral can happen just about anywhere, and a body can theoretically be buried anywhere.

There are designated cemeteries across the UK where you can get buried. Some are traditional with the headstones and monuments you’d expect, and others are nature reserves and forest projects.

You can even get buried on private land as long as the owner says yes. There’s a small chance of covenants or bylaws about burials on private property, though. Plan ahead and have a solicitor run some searches if this is what you want for your final resting place.

What happens at a humanist funeral?

The short answer to this is anything you want. You can leave instructions for just about anything to go on at your funeral, and if you’re tasked with planning one – don’t feel restricted.

You need to make sure you’re respectful to your venue, of course. There are no real rules for a humanist funeral, and this can actually be a little more challenging than it sounds. Rather than a “plug and play” church service, it’ll need a bit of thinking about.

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There’s no harm in following what you’d expect from a religious ceremony to an extent, with an order of service looking something like this:

  • Welcoming music.
  • Opening words.
  • A tribute or eulogy from a friend or family member.
  • A reading of poetry, prose, or singing a song.
  • Reflection time for attendees.
  • Committal to be cremated or taken out of the venue.
  • Playing of a final song.

But go for your life with anything you want.

Once the body has been sent behind the curtains or lowered six feet under, you can then have the wake. How this goes is up to you, do you want to throw a few hundred pounds behind the bar and get everyone jolly? Put out some egg and cress sandwiches and reminisce about years gone by? It's entirely up to you.

What songs can I play at a humanist funeral?

Music is a massive part of who we are. What we listen to defined out youth. Some songs will forever remind your friends and family of you. These are the tunes you probably want at your funeral.

There are perennial favourites, such as:

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  • Celine Dion – My Heart Will Go On.
  • Frank Sinatra – My Way.
  • Robbie Williams – Angels.

And nothing is stopping you having some fun with the music, too. Elton John’s I’m Still Standing, Highway to Hell by AC/DC, or Another One Bites the Dust by Queen could draw a laugh from a sombre moment. As long as it fits the mood, there are no rules.

What can you wear at a humanist funeral?

Are you surprised that the answer is “anything you want”? British tradition has us wearing black attire for funerals, usually. Times are changing, and it’s becoming more common to wear colours or even have clothing themes.

87% of funeral directors have seen bright colours worn at funerals, with 11% even seeing fancy dress outfits at the funerals they organise.

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To make your humanist funeral a celebration of your life, consider having people wear:

  • Rainbow colours.
  • Animal prints.
  • A favourite football or rugby shirt.
  • Your favourite colour.
  • Eveningwear.

Even if people cry, they’ll look amazing at the same time.

Who officiates at a humanist funeral?

Anyone you like can lead your non-religious, humanist funeral. If there’s someone you know with the confidence and composure to lead the ceremony you want to have, go for it. There’s no need to register the person or have them ordained or validated in any way.

It is a big ask of someone, though. You can have a celebrant run your humanist funeral instead. They’ll be experienced in what your order of service can look like, can recommend readings and songs, and generally keep things on track. If there’s no one ready to make the eulogy, the celebrant can read out someone’s words or piece together something to say following chats with loved ones.

Will a funeral director organise a humanist funeral?

A funeral director is there to give you what you want. This is true whether you’re planning your funeral or putting one together after someone has died.

No one is obliged to have their funeral in a church; funerals are increasingly leaving the religion out and going humanist. Your funeral director can work with the crematorium to remove or cover religious symbols. For a burial, they can point you in the right direction for alternative sites.

Conclusion

A humanist funeral removes ideas and notions of religion during your last hurrah. You’re released from the need for bible readings and hymns in churches or having a vicar or priest talk about death and God.

You get complete control of your humanist funeral. It can still be a sombre affair, or you can encourage celebration. Your humanist funeral can be anything you want – the sky is quite literally the limit.

Joanne Rushton
Joanne Rushton
After working at the Co-operative Bank for five years, Joanne left to discover the world before returning to work helping customers understand their finances and get the most out of the banking. A career shift came after two more years, and she found herself working as a teacher in Hanoi, Vietnam before turning to her childhood of passion for writing.
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