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What’s the Difference Between a Funeral, Burial and Cremation?


Funerals can be a very challenging time for people attending, especially the deceased’s closest family and relatives. And not only must those closest to the deceased endure the emotional turmoil of losing a loved one, but many will also take on the burden of making the necessary arrangements.

Making funeral arrangements can be frustrating and confusing, especially at such a stressful time. It doesn’t help when you encounter terminology that can be confusing, so it’s best to understand the meaning of these worse.

Such terminology includes the words funeral, burial, and cremation, and this article explains the differences between them.

What is a Funeral?

A funeral is a ceremonial aspect of mourning somebody’s death. The ceremony helps with the mourning process as they help provide closure and gives an opportunity for people to say goodbye. In Western culture, a funeral will typically involve a formal ceremony, often in a church or similar. If the deceased is famous, then there might be two ceremonies – one for close family and friends and an earlier ceremony for the wider public.

During a funeral, it is common practice for friends and relatives of the deceased to make a speech, or say a few words in their honour. There will usually also be an official leading the proceedings and the official will often be a religious representative.

In addition to the formal ceremony, there is also often an informal gathering, commonly known as the wake. A wake will often be held in somebody’s home while they will occasionally take place in public places like restaurants or pubs. Wakes can be very sad and emotional affairs, although many guests will take pleasure in remembering the deceased and celebrating their lives.

The exact arrangements and schedule for a funeral can vary greatly. People have been holding funerals since the times of our earliest ancestors. As such, the variety in the beliefs and traditions surrounding them has evolved over the years. Many funerals are also closely tied to religious beliefs, although some people would prefer to have funerals with no religious connection involved.

What is a Burial?

A burial is the process of burying the deceased’s body underground in a coffin, and the process is usually part of a funeral ceremony. Attendees will typically go to the graveyard where the deceased is being buried, where a ceremony will usually be held. The coffin will usually begin above ground before being lowered into the grave below during the service. For many, the burial is a key part of the grieving process and is important for helping people come to terms with their loss.

In some cases, the deceased’s body is laid next to a loved one who has died previously, such as a lost wife or husband. A burial will also sometimes take place in communal, family vaults or similar structures rather than being buried individually.

Another type of burial that takes place today, although relatively rare, is burials at sea. A burial at sea typically involves the coffin being released directly into the ocean instead of being cremated or buried underground. This practice is often used by navies that lose personnel at sea, while it is also still practised in some cultures. Arranging a burial at sea can be difficult, and many people choose to scatter the deceased’s ashes at sea instead.

Regardless of the exact method, the burial is usually the last time loved ones will see the deceased or their coffin. Burials will also have to be legally performed and registered, although a funeral director will make these arrangements for you.

What is a Cremation?

A cremation is the process of having the deceased’s body physically burned and is held at a facility known as a crematorium. The deceased’s friends and family will usually attend the cremation and a formal ceremony will be held. The ceremonial aspect of a cremation tends to be very similar to a burial.

As the cremation ceremony begins, the coffin will usually be clearly visible and prepared for incineration. The incinerator itself will usually be located just behind the coffin and when the time comes, the coffin is moved slowly into the incinerator as part of the ceremony. Just as with a funeral, loved ones can get the opportunity to make a speech or just say a few words in honour of those they’ve lost.

Cremations are another ancient human practice, with similar traditions dating back to when people first walked on earth. Obviously, early humans didn’t have today’s incinerators and instead built large bonfires which were lit with the body on top or inside. In some cultures, the body would be placed on a ship filled with flammable material, then set alight and pushed put to sea.

Crematoriums use high-temperature incinerators that leave behind nothing but the bones as they do not burn. The bones are milled and placed into a container known as the ashes. This ash is sometimes kept by the deceased’s family and kept in an urn, while some people choose to scatter or bury the ashes at a location the deceased would have wanted.


A funeral service will be held in the vast majority of deaths, although many will be small, private affairs. Funerals will typically involve either a cremation or a burial, depending on the preferences of the deceased’s family. 

Regardless, making arrangements can be difficult, especially at a time when emotions are running high. It’s also possible mistakes can be made, potentially making a difficult day worse, but fortunately, help is at hand that will help ensure the day goes as smoothly as possible. Professional funeral directors are on hand to make all arrangements for you, leaving you to focus on other important details during this difficult time.