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Types of Alternative and Non-Traditional Funerals

Funerals are meant to help the living say goodbye to their loved ones in a meaningful and cathartic way. However, most people choose to plan a funeral that honours the wishes of the recently deceased, even if it isn’t what they themselves would prefer. If their loved one was interested in alternative practices, spirituality, or ideologies, they would likely have been interested in a non-traditional farewell to this earth.

Here is a list of many different types of alternative and non-traditional funeral services.

What Is A Funeral?

Holding a funeral service, also referred to as a celebration of life or a memorial, is an important part of the grieving process. The survivors gather (sometimes virtually) to acknowledge and commemorate the life of a loved one.[1] Cultures all over the world hold different types of funerals, and have done so since time immemorial.

Funerals can be held in a religious setting with a member of a religious order leading the ceremony. However, they can also be very informal and include readings, poetry, art, dance, and songs performed by friends and family.

While there is truly no limit to the creativity you can exercise during a funeral, many people find comfort in at least some of the traditional rituals performed in their culture. Most importantly, a funeral is all about celebrating the life of the person who has passed away, and bringing comfort to those who are left behind.

What is an Alternative Funeral?

An alternative funeral is less concerned with the traditional conventions of a religious ceremony, and is more about celebrating the life of the recently passed.[2] Some people choose to couple the planning of an alternative funeral with certain other special rituals and memorials. Creating ashes jewellery, naming a star in their honour, and making a pilgrimage to a special site in their memory – these are all special ways to commemorate your loved one.

When you are considering an alternative funeral, here are a few things that you should know.


  • There are no ‘rules’ – you can be creative in your plans

While your culture and religion may have specific traditions, there are no rules that state you have to follow them. Choose a ritual that would be meaningful to the person who has passed, and that will provide comfort to those who are left behind.


  • Find a funeral director who will work with you
    Look for a local funeral director who will work with you to celebrate the deceased in the way in which they would have wanted. If your funeral director is loathe to help you or seems reluctant to ‘bend the traditions,’ contact a different company.


  • Alternative doesn’t have to be ‘crazy’

Just because you have decided to go for an ‘alternative’ funeral doesn’t mean that things have to be completely off the wall. Doing something out of the ordinary could be as simple as popping champagne, painting the coffin in bright colours, or listening to a non-traditional song. Do whatever small gestures, and make as many adjustments to tradition as the deceased would have wanted. This will be an important part of the grieving process.

  • There’s no rule that you have to stick to one belief system

Many people out there have blended faiths, complicated faiths, and no faith at all but enjoy the comfort of the ritual. There is absolutely no reason that you need to stick to one belief system – you can blend Buddhist meditation and Catholic prayer, or Hindu mantras with sitting Jewish shivah. Let the beliefs of the deceased guide the spirituality. Alternatively, you can elect to have no religion component whatsoever.

Direct cremation

Direct cremation refers to the practice in which the body is cremated almost immediately after death, without any funeral service beforehand.[3] Some people choose this option for their own religious beliefs, or are attracted by its low costs.

Direct cremation is conducted with the services of a crematory in the days after death, with no viewings, visitation, wake, or expensive coffin. Some people choose to arrange a memorial service at a later time, unconnected to the rites of the body.

Family-led funeral

When a loved one dies, some people question the practice of bringing a stranger into the mix to lead the funeral, when they themselves knew the deceased intimately. There has been a big uptick in recent years of people choosing to conduct their family member’s funeral themselves.[4] This can include organising and conducting the service, but can also stretch to include preparing their loved one’s body for burial or cremation.

Woodland burial

Woodlands all over the country are beautiful and tranquil places to be laid to rest.[5] While some woodlands have express rules against burial on site, others welcome the spreading of ashes or burial. Have a look through this extensive list of eligible woodlands throughout the UK that welcome burials in their natural settings.

If you have a specific woodland site in mind, check to see if it is registered with The Association of Natural Burial Grounds. It must also be properly certified, and be able to produce a certificate that proves as such.

DIY funeral

Similar to a family led funeral (detailed above), a DIY funeral allows you to plan and execute the memorial in your own way.[6] You can save more than £1,000 by doing this yourself, but remember that it is a lot of work. You will need to arrange a venue, transportation of the body to the crematory or burial site, and all refreshments and speakers. That said, the effort and planning can be a great comfort to loved ones after the deceased has passed.

Burial at sea

For some people, there is nothing so romantic and poignant as the idea of burial at sea. This could be the perfect farewell for navy personnel, sailors, avid divers, or anyone with a maritime connection.[7]

In the UK, anyone can be buried at sea. You only need to arrange a licence in advance, available for just £175 from the MMO. You must also comply with environmental rules. You’ll need to show a doctor’s certificate stating that the body is free from fever and infection. The body must not be embalmed, and should be dressed in biodegradable clothing.

The Britannia Shipping Company helps families arrange burials at sea, as does the Maritime Volunteer Service.

Eco Funeral

If your loved one enjoyed spending time outside, tried to be easy on the environment, and felt most comfortable when in nature, consider an Eco Funeral.[8] This is a simple ‘back to the earth’ approach that highlights their body’s return to Mother Earth. You can make this as spiritual or as practical as you wish, with an emphasis on the beauty of the planet.

Colourful Funeral

Did your loved one adore bright colours, wild hues, and having a lot of fun? It sounds like a colourful funeral might be the best choice for their big send off![9] Colourful funerals take the sombre tradition of grey and black and flip it on its head, encouraging people to dress in wild colours. The coffin may be painted in a technicolour of bright shades, and the whole space can be decorated in colourful flowers, cards, and balloons.

If the deceased was a fun-loving and exuberant individual, this can be a truly comforting and fitting way to say goodbye. Consider giving each attendee a coloured balloon or sparkler to really make the event stand out.

Alternative hearses

You can make your loved ones’ final journey an exciting and personal one with a personalised hearse. Some people choose to transport the coffin in a fire engine, a London Routemaster bus, a hot pink convertible, or even a horse drawn hearse. Choose the mode of transportation that reflects your loved one’s personality the most, and bring a smile to all attendees’ faces.

Tree Burial

Some people are uniquely concerned about the environmental impact of the cremation and/or burial process. Instead of leaving behind heavy metals and synthetic materials, why not be transformed into a tree?[10] Trees are the ultimate symbol of a healthy environment, cleaning the air and providing shade and food. The Capsula Mundi allows you to place the ashes or remains of your loved ones into an egg-shaped casket that slowly breaks down, providing nutrients to a sapling planted above. What a poignant and special way to go!


As you can see, there are countless ways to personalise a memorial service and make your loved one’s final send-off very special. Which one suits the occasion the most?


Reference list

Bell, B. (2016). Burial at sea: Seven things to know. BBC News. [online] 19 Dec. Available at: [Accessed 18 May 2020].

Beyond Life (2017). How to Arrange an Eco Funeral. [online] Beyond Life. Available at: [Accessed 18 May 2020].

De Winter, L. (2017). Planning An Alternative Funeral? Nine Things You Need To Know. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 May 2020].

Dignity Funerals (2019). Colourful funerals. [online] Dignity Funerals. Available at: [Accessed 18 May 2020].

Dignity Memorial (2019). What is a funeral? [online] Dignity Memorial. Available at: [Accessed 18 May 2020].

Erizanu, P. (2018). Organic burial pod turns your body into a tree. [online] CNN. Available at:

Everplan (2018). 5 Things You Need To Know About Direct Cremation. [online] Everplans. Available at: [Accessed 18 May 2020].

Money Advice Service (2019). Arranging a funeral yourself (without a funeral director). [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 May 2020].

Sherwood, H. (2018). The changing face of funerals: why we did it our own way…. The Observer. [online] 22 Jul. Available at: [Accessed 18 May 2020].

Woodland Burial Trust (2020). How to find Woodland Burial Sites in the UK. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 May 2020].














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