Estonian funeral culture undergoing a mini-revolution

Funeral services making use of a cargo bike rather than a traditional hearse are just one of many innovations entering the sector, as it moves with the times.
Funeral services making use of a cargo bike rather than a traditional hearse are just one of many innovations entering the sector, as it moves with the times. Source: ERR

While "Eesti Matus" (Estonian Funeral) may have been one of the hit Estonian movies of 2021, norms when it comes to actual funerals are changing to fit the times.

The green transition, for instance, has not left the undertaking sector behind, ETV investigative show "Pealtnägija" reported Wednesday.

New practices include planting a tree, or even pressing a memorial artifact – a vinyl record or a synthetic diamond – from the ashes of the deceased, while other families send a departed member skyward in a firework rocket.

Planting a tree at the site of interred ashes is also becoming more popular.

Cremation was not common in Estonia in the Soviet era, and Tallinn Crematorium was only opened after the restoration of independence in the early 1990s.

Heigo Rohtla, the crematorium's chief, said: "30 years ago when we started, funerals were a very somber affair, though nowadays things have become a bit lighter. We have really started to break down some of the boundaries."

The number of cremations now is around the same as the figure for burials.

There are nearly 400 cemeteries nationwide, while other practices nowadays include keeping an urn on the mantelpiece.

"A lot of people are buried in their own garden, on their farms," ​ Toomas Daum, manager of the Tallinn funeral home, noted.

Since burials at sea have become more popular, another funeral home even acquired its own sailboat for this purpose.

"There is either talking, a small get-together in some form, and then there is the scattering of ashes. In the sea in Tallinn Bay, which is not prohibited," Tarko Tuisk, manager of Memoris undertakers said.

Shipping line Tallink receives multiple requests per month that the ashes of a deceased person be scattered from the deck of one of its vessels, while it is at sea; the company often complies with these requests.

Marju Kõivupuu, a folklorist who has also studied funeral customs, said while cremation has ancient roots, in Estonia burial in the earth, even without a coffin, was more prevalent.

Growing and more mobile populations make this a less attractive option than it once was, Kõivupuu noted.

Other contemporary options include private memorial parks, where saplings are planted on request.

While the more colorful funeral processions beloved of some online viral videos may never find their way into Estonian practices, the tradition of having a funeral number – a popular music song relevant to the deceased – has done. Toomas Daum said these included "I am Sailing," "Love Me Tender" And "My Way" as among the requested hits, which may often be sung rather than played from a recording.

Finally, as reported by ERR News, a more ecologically minded trend is prevalent too, ranging from e-hearses, to coffins being conveyed via cargo bike to "mushroom urns."

The use of e-commerce, not only to order and purchase the required services and goods but even to grieve via social media live-link rather than at the graveside, is also on the up, AK reported – presumably in part the result of the Covid pandemic. The lengthy digital footprints people now leave behind mean that options can even include a digital alter ego that allows you to "chat" with the deceased.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming.

Source: Pealtnägija, reporter Taavi Eilat.

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