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Cremation Around the World

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  1. Great Britain: The first recorded cremation in Great Britain took place in 1885. Mrs. Jeanette Pickersgill was one of three people that year who were cremated, out of 596,000 deaths. By 2010, nearly three-quarters of the 566,000 Britons who died were cremated.

 

  1. Cambodia: Many Cambodians are Buddhists, who believe death is part of the cycle of reincarnation. When a loved one dies, close relatives dress in white, the color of mourning, and sometimes shave their heads. The body is kept at home, washed and dressed by surviving family members and prayed over by monks for three days before the funeral and cremation. After cremation, the family gives the cremains to the nearest Buddhist temple to assist their loved one’s soul in its reincarnation.

 

  1. Sweden: In Sweden, approximately 80 percent of those who die are cremated. However, Swedes are in no rush to cremate or bury their deceased loved one, often waiting three to four weeks after death.

 

  1. South Korea: As South Korea is quickly running out of burial space, cremation has become increasingly popular. Yet instead of storing their loved one’s cremated remains in urns, South Korean families prefer to have the ashes pressed into “death beads.” These shiny beads are available in turquoise, pink or black and are typically displayed in glass containers around the family’s home.

 

  1. India: Hinduism is the largest religion in India, and the vast majority of Hindus are cremated. Traditionally, cremations are performed in a Hindu funeral pyre, an ancient ritual that involves burning the body on a pile of firewood on open ground. On the fourth day after cremation, the family scatters the ashes in a sacred body of water or another place that was special to their loved one.

 

  1. Japan: In Japan, 99.9% of people are cremated—the highest cremation rate in the world. During a traditional Japanese cremation, the family is present when the casket is moved into the cremation chamber. After the cremation, relatives use large chopsticks to separate the bones from the ashes and transfer them to an urn. The urn typically remains in the family home for 35 days before it is taken to the cemetery and placed at the “haka” or family grave.

 

  1. Thailand: In Thailand, a primarily Buddhist country, funerals are viewed as a celebration of liberation. The vast majority of Thai families cremate their deceased loved ones. After a loved one’s death, the family prays over the body for seven days before cremation. The funeral service is not a mournful event, but an upbeat gathering with Thai music, food and chatter among family and friends.

 

  1. China: In some parts of China, cremation is required by law. In 2014, local officials in a city called Anqing decreed that anyone who died before June 1, 2014 could be buried, but after that cremation would be mandatory. After the announcement, at least seven elderly Anqing residents reportedly committed suicide or hastened their deaths to ensure they could be buried.

 

  1. Switzerland: In Switzerland, the majority of people choose cremation over burial, and the scattering of cremation ashes is not regulated. After the cremation, Swiss families are free to keep, bury or scatter the cremains as they wish, even in the Swiss Alps. The country is also home to “forest cemeteries,” where families can bury their loved one’s ashes at the root of a tree, often referred to as a “living gravestone.”

 

  1. Italy: Italy has one of the lowest cremation rates in Europe, at just 14%. Some experts believe this is because the vast majority of Italians are Catholic. For many decades, the Catholic Church outlawed cremations before lifting the ban in 1963. Today an increasing number of Catholics across the globe are choosing cremation, but the trend has been slower to catch on in Italy.

 

  1. United States: Cremation is more popular than ever in the U.S. In 1958, only one in every 28 Americans were cremated. Today, more than 48% of Americans are cremated, and some experts estimate that percentage will rise to 50% by 2017.

 

  1. Africa: In most African cultures, cremation is considered taboo. However, due to an increasing shortage of burial space, cremation is becoming more common. With an average of 10 burials a day in a single cemetery in Zimbabwe, and an estimated 12 in Botswana, cremation has been supported as the only way to solve the growing problem.