A Guide to Humanist & Non-religious Funerals
Information on Humanist and non-religious funerals and etiquette
Last updated: 16 March 2017
Humanism is a life philosophy that encompasses atheist, agnostic and non-religious beliefs. Humanists do not believe in a god or an afterlife, but they do believe that humans can be moral and ethical without the guidance of a higher being. For a humanist, the meaning of life is to be happy and help others be happy.
Planning a Humanist funeral
If you want a humanist or non-religious funeral for your loved one, you can talk to your funeral director about this. They should be able to put you in touch with a Humanist celebrant who can lead the funeral service for you.
Be aware that there is no regulatory body for Humanist funeral celebrants, so anyone can offer non-religious celebrant services. The British Humanist Association has training and quality assurance procedures for all its celebrants. You can find a celebrant near you on the BHA website.
Humanist funerals do not necessarily have a set structure for their order of service, or traditions that must be followed. This means that when you plan a Humanist funeral service you can incorporate any elements you want, including music, poetry and speeches. Your celebrant will be able to discuss this with you to plan the ideal service.
Humanist funeral traditions
Humanist funerals are, by their nature, not strictly traditional. Humanist celebrants usually welcome creative or alternative funeral ideas, so you don’t necessarily have to stick to any set customs or rituals.
Humanists are generally accepting of all funeral practices, such as cremation, burial, embalming and organ or tissue donation. Some Humanists may favour eco-friendly funerals, as this may be seen as a more ethical choice.
Humanist and non-religious funeral services can take place almost anywhere, apart from religious places of worship. Crematoria or other non-religious venues are popular choices, as well as woodlands or meadows for green burials.
The Humanist funeral service will generally focus on the personality and achievements of the person who has passed away. With no mention of God or an afterlife, the emphasis is on treasuring the memories of that special person and acknowledging the profound sadness of saying goodbye to them.
Though Humanist funerals may be a celebration of life and incorporate more joyful and positive elements, this is still often balanced with the deep sadness of losing someone special.
After the funeral
Many British Humanists may choose to organise a wake to take place after the funeral. As with wakes at traditional Christian funerals, this can be an opportunity to come together to share memories with other mourners.
Unlike some religions, Humanism does not have a set mourning period or special mourning ceremonies, though humanists are free to organise memorial services if they so wish.
Humanist funeral etiquette
Some Humanist funerals may be less formal than traditional religious funerals, but you should still be aware of your behaviour as a mourner. As with all funerals, good etiquette for Humanist services is based on showing respect for the person who has died. Paying attention to the service is a must, and you should dress in clean, ironed clothes.
Specific dress codes, however, can vary widely at humanist funerals, as they are not necessarily bound by tradition. Some non-religious funerals have a colourful dress code or even themed fancy dress. Usually mourners will be informed of this before the funeral.
Remember that if the funeral is taking place in a woodland or green burial site, you may need to wear suitable outdoor clothing and sensible footwear.
To learn more about the different types of funeral, read our religious funeral guides.