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What is Cremation?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Jan 22, 2024
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Cremation is the act of disposing of a deceased person’s body by burning the body’s remains. In the US, those who chose cremation may ask that their ashes be spread in some location that is sacred to them, or may have their ashes buried. In some family traditions, the cremated remains of the deceased may be kept by surviving family members.

Cremation is one of the oldest means of disposing of a body. Funeral pyres, instead of burial were a common custom in numerous countries. Vikings who had died might be loaded onto ships with all their possessions. The ship was then ignited and set out to sea. In some countries, religious beliefs held that a husband on a pyre had to be joined by his surviving wife. Such beliefs are now virtually non-existent.

Cremation in the US normally takes place in a crematorium. The body is heated to over 2000 degrees F (1093.3 C), essentially reducing the body to very little other than small pieces of bone and jewelry or teeth fillings. In most cases, these pieces are separated from the ash remains of the body. The family tends to receive the ashes only.

For some, cremation represents the most natural way to dispose of a body. The Bible tells of Ashes to Ashes, and in the Protestant Burial ceremony, cremation seemed symbolic of the body returning to ash and dust. Until recently, the Catholic Church frowned upon cremation, but now allows for it.

There are many Christian sects, and almost all of Judaica who do not believe in cremation. The body should return to the earth and should not be associated with more pagan means of disposal. For many cremation is a highly individual choice, and one may not only rely on religious feelings in determining how one would like one’s remains treated.

Cremation has gained in popularity for several reasons. Many feel that cremation is more environmentally friendly than embalming practices used in the US. Many chemicals used in embalming are known toxins. However, there is some evidence that crematoriums, where bodies are cremated, produce their own pollutants.

Financially, cremating a body is far more cost-effective than burial. Burial requires the purchase of a burial plot, a coffin, and et cetera. Cremation can mean simplifying funeral arrangements for family members, something many wish to do so that grieving family members need not be overwhelmed after a loss.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By dega2010 — On Dec 31, 2010

@medicchristy: Each state has their own rules and regulations for handling unclaimed bodies. Economic depression is the reason why families are not claiming their deceased relatives. If they did claim them, they would be responsible for burial.

In some states, they cremate after 60 days of trying to notify the next-of-kin.

By medicchristy — On Dec 29, 2010

Do they cremate unclaimed dead bodies if no one claims it? If so, how long do they have to wait before they cremate the body?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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