If you’ve recently said goodbye to someone who wasn’t religious, you might be wondering what to do for their funeral. What kind of ceremony can you have that respects their perspective, but still feels as meaningful and comforting as a traditional funeral? A humanist funeral – that is, a non-religious funeral – may well be the answer.

Intrigued? Here’s what you need to know to decide if a humanist service is right for your loved one.

We’ll be talking about:


What is a humanist funeral?

A humanist funeral is a ceremony that celebrates the life of someone who’s died, without mentioning religion or a god. Humanist funeral services are usually led by a celebrant, who guides guests through the readings and music much like a vicar would in a Christian service.

The person who has died doesn’t need to have been a ‘humanist’ to have a humanist funeral – most humanist funerals don’t really talk about humanism at all. They are simply meaningful, non-religious, memorial services.


What happens at a humanist funeral?

The description above might sound pretty open-ended, and it is: a humanist service can have any format you want, and what happens at a humanist funeral service is largely up to the people organising it.

So, a humanist service can be much like a traditional funeral, just with non-religious music and poems instead of hymns and prayers. Or it can take a completely different approach, like an ash scattering on a hillside or a Viking-style send off on the beach.

That said, the organisation Humanists UK does have a sample format you could take as a starting point:

  1. Music plays as the service begins
  2. The celebrant welcomes the guests, and sets the tone with a reflection on what it means to celebrate a life and say goodbye
  3. The celebrant or a close family member reads the tribute (this is essentially the same as a eulogy, and covers the life and character of the person who has died)
  4. Friends and family stand up to give readings
  5. The celebrant calls for a moment’s silence for thought
  6. The coffin is taken from view
  7. The celebrant shares some closing thoughts, and thanks guests for their attendance
  8. Music plays as guests walk out


Where can you hold a humanist funeral?

Most humanist services take place at a crematorium, cemetery or natural burial site. In theory, however, you could hold a humanist funeral anywhere. Village halls, gardens, outdoor spaces and hotel event halls are all popular options.

If you would rather hold the funeral with the ashes of the person who has died, rather than a coffin, consider arranging a direct cremation. This is a simple and inexpensive cremation without a service, often chosen by families who’d like to arrange a less traditional ash-scattering service to say goodbye.


Humanist funeral songs and readings

Humanist funeral songs, poems and prose readings don’t have to be funeral-themed, or even sad. Your loved one’s favourite tracks and books can be a very meaningful place to start. You can even write your own funeral poem.

But if you’d like some inspiration, some popular options for music are:

And for readings, you could consider:


How much does a humanist funeral cost?

A typical humanist celebrant will charge between £150 and £280 for a service. You can contact a few different celebrants to compare prices if you’d like. Find out more about funeral costs here.


What to wear to a humanist funeral

Generally speaking, your safest bet is to wear formal clothing in dark colours. Some families ask guests to wear bright colours, or their loved one’s favourite colours or prints. It’s safest to ask the person organising the funeral if you’re not sure.


How do you plan a humanist funeral?

If you’d like to arrange a humanist funeral, your first step is to find a celebrant. You can ask your funeral director if they know someone, or find a celebrant yourself using the Humanists UK website.

The celebrant will meet with you before the funeral to plan the service with you and find out more about the person who has died. It can help to prepare with pictures, ideas for readings and songs and plenty of stories to help them create a really personal farewell.

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