Funeral fireworks... why Kiwis go out with a bang

17:00, May 05 2012
Sally Raudon researched funerals in New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, England and Scotland.
LAST RITES: Sally Raudon researched funerals in New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, England and Scotland.

New Zealanders may be shy and reserved, but we hold long, personalised funerals for our loved ones, and show far more emotion than Norwegians, Swedes, English and Scots.

Our funerals lean towards the American style, where everything – down to the cup of tea and biscuits afterwards – is organised by a funeral home.

We are also more likely to embalm, cremate and scatter the ashes of our loved ones, and in some cases turn the ashes into jewellery, tattoos, art, or in the case of a Hawke's Bay company – fireworks.

Auckland researcher Sally Raudon, with the assistance of a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust grant, researched death, dying and funerals in New Zealand, and the four other countries.

The results were surprising, given the perceived similarities between the countries, particularly when it came to the time between death and a funeral.

In New Zealand funerals generally happen about three to five days after someone has died.


In England one to three weeks is the norm, and in Stockholm, Sweden, the average interval between death and the funeral is five to six weeks.

And the Swedish do not embalm, she said.

"We embalm almost automatically. That's because a lot of our funeral directors went to the US in the middle of last century and came back with these techniques to be more professional."

Raudon said in England, families were generally given a 30-minute timeslot for a funeral.

"So you have got five minutes to get your family in, the ceremony is 20 minutes, and then you have got five minutes to get your family out a different door because there is another family waiting to come in," she said.

"There was a case in 2010 of a family having a funeral for a baby, and they were fined for staying as little as five minutes too long."

In New Zealand many people speak, and most ceremonies last about an hour. "When we have a funeral it is not uncommon for someone from the family to talk, maybe a work colleague, someone from a sports club. Sometimes it is like an open mic session. And if it is a young person who has died, it's common for up to 12 people to talk," Raudon said.

"Our funerals are very unusual because we focus intimately on the person. New Zealand funerals often bring together all the parts of someone's life to present a biography.

"We think things like using a celebrant, showing photos of the person and having several people speaking, are normal. But that isn't what happens in other countries."

"In Norway and Sweden using photos is frowned on as too personal, and in England they say they don't have time for that kind of personalisation. "In Sweden, the Church still controls everything about death. Part of your taxes are diverted to the Church to pay for your funeral and disposal. If you don't want to do that, you need to opt out.

"They are quite admiring of the New Zealand system of using celebrants because families get to choose how much religion is included in a ceremony."

Raudon said there was now a trend in New Zealand at the other end of the emotional scale – direct disposal – where a person could request they be put in a plain casket and taken directly to be cremated, without a funeral service or viewing.

"It seems to be driven by people being cost conscious, but also not wanting a fuss."


You can be buried at sea, as long as you work in with Maritime Safety.

Anyone can hold a funeral, and almost anywhere, with permission.

There is no timeframe.

With a few exceptions, you don't need to be embalmed.

Some funeral directors allow families to hire a coffin for the ceremony, then use a cheaper one for the cremation.

You can leave your body to science. Medical schools in Auckland and Otago accept bodies, but from time to time they have enough.

Some councils prefer you to request permission to scatter ashes in public spaces. Think twice about rose gardens – roses don't like them.

If you live in Wellington, New Plymouth or Motueka you can use a natural burial site.

You don't have to hold a funeral, or use a funeral director.

You don't even have to use a coffin for a burial – although you do for a cremation.

Sunday Star Times