Funeral caskets and standard caskets have an interesting set of traditions and history. Most important of these may be that though the two terms are often used interchangeably – “funeral caskets” can be, in fact, distinct from a standard casket. This is a tricky difference that can be confusing to those who are novices in the terms used by people in the death care industry. So, we have assembled this article to help clear up some of the confusion.
The main difference summarized
In its strictest sense, the term funeral caskets refers to caskets that are intended to be displayed at a funeral, but not necessarily to be ultimately buried. Standard caskets are intended to be both displayed and buried. Funeral caskets are common today when a person is to be cremated but the family wants to conduct a traditional funeral service in which the body is displayed in a casket before the cremation. (This is why these types of funeral caskets are also sometimes called cremation caskets.) Funeral caskets may also be used in cases in which a body is to be donated to science, and even a few cases have been reported in which they have been used in cases in which a body is missing entirely and a person is assumed to be deceased. These types of funeral caskets differ from standard caskets only in that they are often made up of lighter weight materials that will not be asked to stand up to the Earth’s elements underground. These funeral caskets typically look no less luxurious than other caskets and are usually adorned with cushioning and, sometimes elaborate, external fittings. In fact, it is often the case that the untrained eye will not know whether a casket is officially a funeral casket or simply a standard casket.
How caskets, funeral caskets and coffins are related
And interesting point to this discussion involves the word casket itself. In some cases it is important to establish that one is discussing a funeral casket because casket is traditionally also a term for a jewelry box. The word casket became associated with funerals and hence the term funeral casket was introduced in the early 1900’s when North American undertakers took on the term casket as a euphemism for the word coffin. Funeral caskets, the undertakers said, with their association to precious jewelry, are appealing places to send a loved-ones to eternal rest. This distinction between funeral caskets and coffins is mostly a North American one. The euphemism never caught on in most of the rest of the world where funeral caskets are simply still known as coffins.
So, in general, caskets are related to coffins in that they are absolutely intended to be buried. Funeral caskets, meanwhile, may nor may not ultimately be buried. When the word coffin was replace by casket, it was done so with the intent that these containers for a deceased person’s body would become luxurious show pieces as much as practical containers for burial. This was something new for families to deceased people to consider. In the past, the idea of a presenting a body to the public during a funeral in a sophisticated, stylish piece was a foreign one, but with the advent of “caskets,” it became a quite popular idea. Still, many who grew up in the tough, practical days of the early 20th century’s depression era saw the emphasis on style and grace as a bit of a waste. They were content with the by-gone, simple coffin as the center piece of any funeral. So, the idea that a version of the casket that is as simple and as unpretentious as possible remained almost as popular as the idea of funeral caskets. “Coffins” were, therefore doomed as a species. Funerals and burials that were to be arranged by companies operating in the burgeoning “death care” industry were fated to be led by either a casket or a funeral casket. Coffins – except as we say in countries besides the United States – have never managed to maintain their popularity. (Though they are still featured in, say, vampire movies, Halloween haunted houses and other works of horror. Also, some United States casket manufacturers have recently begun outfitting pieces shaped in the hexagon style of coffin into the casket look, complete with sophisticated, luxurious interior linings and stylish designs painted, engraved, or molded on the exterior.) Some Americans in recent years have begun to draw an even further distinction between coffins and funeral caskets for these people, a coffin is a tapered hexagonal or octagonal box used for a burial. A rectangular burial box, meanwhile, is called a casket.
Will funeral caskets withstand the elements?
Though many caskets are intended for people who are to be cremated, they may, of course, be buried in the ground directly or in a burial vault. Today’s casket manufacturers offer features that they claim will protect the body from quick decomposition underground. For example, some offer funeral caskets that use a gasket to seal the container shut after the funeral casket is closed for the final time. Many manufacturers offer a warranty on the structural integrity of the funeral casket.
But funeral caskets, meanwhile do not necessarily make such claims. Funeral caskets, as we say, are not necessarily intended to have bodies laid to their final resting place in them. They are, more or less, a temporary container intended, mostly, for the viewing comfort of those who may come to a funeral ceremony or a viewing ceremony.
Typically, funeral caskets are made from hard wood, often taking on the appearance of a beautiful piece of heirloom furniture that has been in a family for decades, maybe even a century or two. Meanwhile caskets are often made of steel – sometimes even bronze – and are intended to outlast the ages. Their interiors are often lined with rubber gasket material that gives those who buy the casket the feel as if the precious contents inside the casket will be protected forever from intruding elements that will do their best to work their way into the interior.
But here’s an interesting catch: funeral caskets are, in effect, about as good at protecting a body from the elements as their cousins, the casket. No casket will preserve a body indefinitely, regardless of its material and regardless of whether the deceased has been embalmed beforehand. In some cases, a sealed funeral casket may actually speed up rather than slow down the process of decomposition. An airtight funeral casket, for example, fosters decomposition by anaerobic bacteria, which results in a putrefied liquefaction of the body, and all putrefied tissue remains inside the container, only to be exposed in the event of an exhumation. A container that allows air molecules to pass in and out, such as a simple wooden box, allows for aerobic decomposition that results in much less noxious odor and clean skeletonization.
So, this is why many consumers advise families who have lost a loved one to buy for their beloved family member, simply, a funeral casket – even if the ultimate goal is to bury the body. This advice holds true, of course, only if a funeral casket can be found for a lesser price than a casket, which is often the case in today’s modern funeral industry world. Though increasingly funeral caskets are becoming more and more sophisticated and intricate in their design and manufacturing complexity. So it remains to be seen if this trend in which funeral caskets are less expensive than caskets will continue. But, as of this writing, that is the case – at least in most situations. This leads us directly into the next discussion about the pricing of funeral caskets verses caskets.
Price difference in funeral caskets
As we mention, prices of funeral caskets will often be a little less expensive than standard caskets, simply because they are not intended to be as sturdy as caskets. But that is not always the case. Many funeral caskets these days are sold as standard caskets, with the intent that they will be buried. So, to make matters more confusing for the consumer, the distinction between funeral caskets and caskets is blurring. This has the effect of drawing the prices of funeral caskets upwards in many cases.
To help with this problem for consumers, many funeral homes offer the option of rental of funeral caskets. This will assure, of course, that the price will be less than for a standard casket. The trouble is that the reduction in price for rental funeral caskets is not significant enough for many customers, so they often end up buying a slightly more expensive standard casket – just for the looks. (It is ironic to know that, in some cases, standard caskets are actually considered by customers to be more stylish and elegant than the funeral caskets – whose very purpose is style and elegance.)
We hope this article has helped clear up the sometimes strange confusion that exists over the term funeral caskets as opposed to caskets. Unfortunately, at this stage of the evolution of the death care industry, there is probably no simpler way to explain this matter. The good news is that, in the coming years, the confusion will likely work itself out as “funeral” becomes less and less an important word in this discussion and all caskets become simply “caskets.”