What’s The Difference Between A Coffin And A Casket?

row of caskets
via Little’s Funeral Home

As autumn approaches, millions of people will put away the signs of summer and replace the front yard kitsch of lawn ornaments and gnomes gripping surfboards with harbingers of celebrations to come. It is a safe bet Halloweens decorations will soon be littering the lawns of suburbia.

One of the most popular representations of the late October holiday is that of the scary vampire lying in his casket. But while Dracula and his ilk do spend the days in slumber in a box usually used for burial, the Count isn’t reclining in a coffin. Nosferatu, Vlad the Impaler, and all the other old bloodsuckers hung out in coffins.

Although caskets and coffins are both used to bury the dead, they are two very different objects.

A Brief History Of Burying The Dead

From the beginning, man has buried the dead in some form or fashion.  Most early burials involved little more than interring the body without any preparation or covering. This way, the body could naturally return to Earth. Over time, however, some civilizations started wrapping the deceased in a blanket or shroud. Eventually, mourners began to construct wooden boxes to hold the dead, which slowly became more decorative so that they could be displayed before burial.

The Difference Between a Coffin and Casket

Dracula Coffin
via thebigscare.com

The French were the first to coin the term “cofin,” which itself is taken from an ancient Latin word meaning “basket.” A coffin refers specifically to a tapered hexagonal or octagonal box that has an anthropoid shape, conforming to the human body. The top is broader for shoulders and torso, while the bottom is narrower for legs and feet.

A coffin’s lid is similar in shape. It is generally a solid piece of wood and can be hinged on the side for viewing purposes. The handles and decorations on the exterior are known as “coffin furniture,” and can be useful in gaining information about the dates of construction and wealth of the individual inside.

A “casket” was originally defined as “a box for treasures or jewelry.” The word’s usage changed to define that of a burial container during the 18th and 19th centuries when undertaking became more prevalent.

The introduction of ornate and detailed caskets was done to ease the mourning process. They were fashioned to look more like beds, and the bodies within were embalmed to look as though the person was just taking a peaceful nap. Funeral directors also felt the term “casket” sounded less offensive and felt the grieving process would be easier if the box didn’t mirror the shape of the human body inside.

While coffins are constructed primarily of wood, caskets fall into two broad categories of exterior material—wood and metal. Select hardwood species like mahogany, cherry, and walnut are chosen for their luxurious appearance, while native woods like oak and ash give off a natural warmth and provide years of durability. Stainless steel is considered to be a great value in metal caskets, with bronze as the most costly metal available and copper a close second in expense.

Do People Still Use Caskets?

Some areas of the world still use coffins to inter the dead, but most westernized countries now use caskets.

Besides hundreds of casket options, the funeral industry has gone a step further to create a less morbid aura around the planning of funeral services by using terms like “display area” instead of “casket room” and “casket coach” instead of “hearse.”

Custom coffins are growing more popular with each passing year. A company based in the UK designs exclusive burial boxes to look like luggage, musical instruments, and even police boxes. And if special order pine boxes aren’t your thing, there’s always the option of picking up a cheap casket at Costco. Try some on for size while shopping for new Halloween decorations this year.


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