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snowy cemetary with flowers

How to Have a Funeral in the Winter

You don’t get to choose the time of your death or the deaths of your loved ones. If a loved one has recently died, you may, however, be facing the choice of whether to hold a funeral or celebration of life in wintertime. While it’s not like the old days when we couldn’t bury our dead because of frozen ground, planning a winter funeral does pose some things to think about. 

Try not to let the weather deter you from holding a funeral or an interment of ashes outside. There are many reasons to host a funeral or memorial service outside, even if the weather is cold. Outdoor events are safer in the era of covid-19. This may encourage attendance from those who are wary of catching or spreading the virus. Also, there is a reverent ambiance to outdoor Winter events, which lends itself well to a funeral. Winter is the time when things in nature die off or go dormant, and this natural symbolism might be a comfort, albeit a cold one. In this article, we’ll discuss how to plan a Winter funeral. 

Winter Funeral

6 Simple Ways to Plan a Winter Funeral

  • Start with the professionals

If you live somewhere where the ground is frozen during winter, you’ll need to make the proper arrangements with your funeral home. If your loved one is being buried in a cemetery, burying a body in Winter requires special equipment to either thaw or cut through the frozen ground. And, it may not be available in your area, depending on your region. If this is the case, you may need to wait until Spring until the burial. If your loved one is being cremated, this can be done any time and you can choose to do a special memorial with the ashes now, or wait until the weather gets warmer. Either way, you may still want to hold a service of some kind sooner rather than later, but this is of course a very personal decision - you’ll need to check in with your funeral director or celebrant about the logistics of this.

  • Choose a daytime service

Hold your Winter funeral during the late morning or afternoon when the weather will be warmest. If possible, choose a Saturday, since most people will be available to attend. However, if a weekday is necessary, most workplaces allow time off for funerals. 

  • Go for warm

Include heating elements in your service. Maybe your deceased beloved enjoyed bonfires. There could be a bonfire as part of the outdoor reception, or even for the whole service. You could also include the bonfire in the funeral, such as ritualizing the lighting of the bonfire. Another good way to use a bonfire is to provide pens and pieces of paper where mourners can write messages to the deceased and burn them. Fire can be healing, soothing and offer a sense of release. It will also help keep people warm.

If you don’t have space for a bonfire, consider grouping seating around portable fire pits. This will allow people to mingle and enjoy refreshments while staying warm. Perhaps your lost loved one enjoyed camping, which makes gathering around fires even more appropriate. Or maybe they just loved s’mores, which are also now a dessert option. 

Bonfires and fire pits might not be appropriate or available for many reasons. If this is the case, consider renting portable gas heaters, like the ones that restaurants use. 

  • Serve hot drinks

No one will notice the cold with a hot mug of coffee, cider, or hot chocolate in their hands. Hot drinks are a universal form of comfort and will be welcome at an outdoor Winter funeral or celebration of life. They are also quite scalable, lending themselves to both simple and elaborate presentations. 

For coffee stations consider offering both caffeinated and decaffeinated options. You could even offer a few varieties of coffee, including different types or flavors. Fresh milk and cream make for a fun twist, as well as differently flavored creamers. 

Tea is a standby winter beverage, and there are endless varieties to choose from. Offer a selection of caffeinated and non-caffeinated teas like herbal tea. Many people who are sensitive to caffeine drink tea instead of coffee. Tea accouterments include lemon slices, cream, and sugar. The only other thing you’ll need is a hot water carafe. 

Hot chocolate is also a classic Winter beverage and is easily customizable with candy canes for stirring, marshmallows, and whipped cream. Apple cider can be served hot as is or mulled with winter spices for a satisfying kick. 

  • Keep the food warm

In addition to serving warm food, like soup, make sure you have the equipment necessary to keep the food hot while serving it outdoors. Depending on your access to electricity, this could mean an army of crockpots, or professional chafing dishes with a portable heating element. Other good warm foods include BBQ or other kinds of meat and vegetables. Also consider fondue or sliders as easy, warm foods to offer. 

  • Display the urn on a special table

If you’re displaying an urn, create a special memorial table. This table can include candles and pictures of your deceased beloved and other items that represent the person they were. A blank book could be added for mourners to write down fond memories about the person who passed. For beautiful, unique, and ecologically crafted urns, check out the extensive options from Living UrnWhether you are planting a tree with your loved one’s ashes, scattering them, or displaying the urn in your home, the Living Urn has a beautiful and affordable option for you. 

Other Things to Consider When Planning a Winter Funeral

snowy cemetary with flowers

Here are a few additional things to consider when planning a Winter funeral. 

1.Traveling during Winter

Winter storms may prevent mourners from being able to travel to the cemetery or memorial site. If people who are traveling to the funeral are performing important functions, like giving speeches, participating in a scattering or tree planting, or acting as pallbearers, it’s important to have a backup plan if they are delayed by inclement weather. 

2. Can I have a graveside service?

You may host a graveside service in the wintertime. Since graveside services are typically on the shorter side, this works well with an outdoor Winter service. Inviting just close friends and family to the graveside, and hosting a larger funeral service inside is an option. 

3. What if it snows?

If it snows, then it’s possible that a cemetery or memorial site might reschedule the event (whether it's a burial or other memorial). If your loved one is being buried, modern technology makes it possible to dig graves out of the frozen ground, but in the case of an actual storm, rescheduling the event is possible. So, it will be important to have a plan B that includes an indoor space to hold the funeral service and to make arrangements for the body or ashes to be stored safely until it’s time for the memorial.

How do Cemeteries Dig Graves in the Winter?

Before the technology came about that now allows us to dig graves in the Winter, body’s would be stored in receiving vaults until the ground was soft enough to dig with shovels. Now, we can store bodies for as long as needed. People who choose to wait until Spring to have a body buried typically store the body in a mausoleum temporarily. However, with modern technology, it isn’t necessary to wait for a funeral unless you’d like to. 

Here are the ways cemeteries dig graves in the winter:

1. Jackhammer

This is the most common tool used to dig a grave in the winter. The jackhammer breaks through the upper layers of frost and then continues to break up the cold ground. Using a jackhammer is effective and affordable, even though it does take some time. 

2. Heaters

Heat is often used to thaw frozen ground in a gravesite. This makes the grave much easier to dig. There is a wide range of heaters used, including electric heaters or lit bags of charcoal. 

3. Backhoe

Sometimes called “frost teeth”, a backhoe attached to a digging craned makes short work of frozen ground. This method is more costly than other methods. 

4. Thawer

Similar to heaters, a thawer uses heat and insulation to thaw frozen ground. Imagine a large oil barrel that’s been cut in half. The halves are placed on the ground over propane-powered torches. These devices quickly soften frozen ground in preparation for burial. 

Alternatives for Burying a Body in Winter

If you don't want to bury your loved one during wintertime, or are being prevented from holding a funeral due to weather, here are a few alternatives to burial in Winter.

  • Temporary mausoleum holding
  • A mausoleum is an above-ground burial chamber. If you’re waiting to hold a funeral or burial, you can store the body of your deceased beloved in a mausoleum. Typically this is for a week or two, but it’s possible to be done for longer as well. While convenient, this is usually a fairly expensive option. 

  • Cremation
  • Cremation has recently overtaken burial as the leading choice of Americans. This is due to many reasons, including the much lower cost of cremation, families who are less traditional, etc. There are many ways to memorialize ashes, including burial, memorial urns, and memory trees. 

    The Living Urn offers their BioUrn tree planting system for an easy way to grow a tree from your loved one’s ashes. It is complex in its design but very easy to use. It’s made for gardening novices to be successful at growing a tree. 

  • Body Donation
  • Several organizations will accept body donations for the advancement of science. This is a wonderful way to honor your deceased loved one and to give them a legacy. Many organizations will then pay for the remains to be cremated and deliver your loved one's ashes back to you.

    Previous article How are Cremation Stones Made? Materials & Process