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First report into UK funeral customs highlights major change

Today’s funerals are much more likely to be a celebration of life than a mournful occasion, according to a new report. 

More than half of the population (54%) would rather have a celebratory send-off than a simple church service with hymns, and almost half (48%) are keen for their funeral to reflect their favourite, hobby, colour, football team or music.

The Ways We Say Goodbye is the first study to draw information from the arrangements being made at UK funeral homes as well as from the public.

The Co-operative Funeralcare conducted research across its network of funeral homes and commissioned an independent ICM survey of 2,000 British adults.

The results confirm a major cultural shift in people’s approach to funerals. Requests over the last five years have included pink Cadillacs, firework displays, milk-float corteges and live jazz at the graveside, as well as bubbles and balloons.

Funeral historian Dr Julian Litten has backed the findings: “The splendour and ceremony once favoured by the Victorians is returning, but with a modern twist,” he said. “High profile funerals, such as that of Princess Diana and, more recently, of Jade Goody, have encouraged people to adopt a fresh approach.” He expects contemporary funerals to overtake the more traditional sombre events within the next 10 years.

However, while funerals are becoming more contemporary, the subject still remains taboo, as 55% of people admit to never having discussed their wishes for their own funeral with friends and family.

The study of UK funeral customs also revealed that one in ten funerals include no religion at all, and a third now incorporate a favourite pop song, football theme or hobby.

In 60% of funerals the deceased is dressed to reflect their life, job or hobby. Unusual outfit requests have included a clown costume, cycling lycra, fishermen’s waders and wet suits, while wedding dresses, football strips, military uniforms, kilts and bike leathers are quite common.

Personalised floral tributes, such as to ‘Mum’ or Dad,’ are seen at just over a third of funerals, with a pint of Guinness, a cricket bat and a pigeon among the more innovative floral designs.

One in 20 coffins is bespoke; requests have included a Lancaster bomber, a Tardis and a yacht. 

Music choices are also changing. Religious music is declining, with contemporary music - from love songs to favourite TV themes - gaining in popularity. Requests for funeral ceremonies to be broadcast live over the Internet are also increasing.

“Our research, the largest study of funeral customs ever carried out, reveals a significant shift in attitude across the UK,” said David Collingwood, The Co-operative Funeralcare’s UK operations manager. “Funeral directors are going to great lengths to accommodate a wide range of special requests, as funerals become more a celebration of life.”

Top 10 funeral songs in 2009:

  1. My Way - Frank Sinatra/Shirley Bassey
  2. Wind Beneath My Wings - Bette Midler/Celine Dion
  3. Time To Say Goodbye - Sarah Brightman/Andrea Bocelli
  4. Angels - Robbie Williams
  5. Over The Rainbow - Eva Cassidy
  6. You Raise Me Up - Westlife/Boyzone/Josh Groban
  7. My Heart Will Go On - Celine Dion
  8. I Will Always Love You - Whitney Houston
  9. You’ll Never Walk Alone - Gerry and the Pacemakers
  10. Unforgettable - Nat King Cole

The Co-operative Funeralcare’s research into customs and practices conducted across 559 of its funeral homes found:

  • 49% of funerals where the tone was celebration rather than mourning
  • 67% traditional funerals, 21% contemporary, 12% humanist
  • 31% of funerals involved personal input from mourners
  • 35% involved personalised flowers
  • 6% involved personalised coffins
  • 36% of funerals had purely religious music, 64% contemporary, classical or mixture

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