Posted by Richard Rawlinson
The Cremation Society of Great Britain this month publishes its international cremation statistics for 2010. See here.
The country with the highest percentage of cremations is Japan at 99.9%, and the country with the lowest percentage is Ghana at 3%. But, for me, the most interesting comparison, is between the UK and Italy.
The UK, which has 260 crematoria nationwide, had 413,780 cremations, which is 73% of the total 565,624 deaths. Italy, which had a similar number of deaths to the UK, had 488,756 fewer cremations. Italy’s 76,868 cremations amount to 14% of the total 585,448 deaths.
I confess to being a bit of an Italophile but it strikes me Italians celebrate life with verve but treat death with a dignity that’s also practical and realistic – an approach that’s perhaps lacking in some Protestant countries where death is more taboo.
Italian funerals and wakes remain sombre occasions where most people wear black. When someone dies in a village, he or she is still kept in an open coffin at home and friends and neighbours visit to pay their respects. The family often decorate the door of the house and put up notices to tell people about the death and the funeral. They have a full mass at the funeral service and neighbours and friends follow the pallbearers to the cemetery in a procession while people watch respectfully.
The cemetries are well kept, too, and the graves seem to be cared for with love, often displaying framed photos of the deceased and newly-placed flowers.
The cemeteries outside the Mediterranean towns are among the best. They often have wonderful views, with coffins placed in niches of high walls, each with their own light and vase.
Long may these traditions last. The crass festival of Halloween is sadly slowly taking the place of the Day of the Dead when, on 2 November, Italians visit the graves of their relatives and friends with chrysanthemums and candles; churches hold services for the dead, and children are given toys and presents by the ‘muorti’.
When the newly married Grace Kelly put a vase of chrysanthemums on a guest’s bedside table, her Prince Ranier of Monaco berated her. ‘Don’t you know these flowers symbolise death in Europe?’ he said.
Find the Cremation Society of Great Britain here.