The Difference Between a Coffin and a Casket
If you have ever been to a funeral or even seen one on TV, it is likely you have seen a casket. It is also likely you have heard one person, or another refer to it as a coffin. While the words may seem interchangeable, they refer to two different types of burial vessels. To use them interchangeably is a common mistake and one most do not know they are making! Below we will discuss the main points of differences between coffins and caskets.
A little History
According to Meriam Websters Dictionary, a coffin is “a box or chest for burying a corpse” while a casket is “1: a small chest or box (as for jewels) 2: a usually fancy coffin”. Throughout most of the world, coffin is used to this day. In the United States, the word coffin was used with regularity until the late nineteenth century. It was at this time that the funeral directors changed their language to soften the reality of the situation and thus casket became the norm.
What makes a Coffin?
The most obvious difference between a casket and a coffin is simply the shape. A coffin is wider at the top and tapers down to the bottom. This shape mimics the human body, with typically wider shoulders, tapering down through the hips until the feet. A coffin has six sides, two of which are much longer than the others. Another noticeable difference is in the top; the top of a coffin comes off in its entirety, often referred to as a full couch. This means that when someone is laid out, you will see their entire body in the coffin.
What makes a Casket?
A casket, while similar to a coffin, does have a few marked differences. The most noticeable is there are usually 4 sides to a casket, as opposed to six. Caskets are rectangular in shape, with parallel sides and no tapering. A casket also commonly has a two-piece lid, one end that covers the feet and one that will cover from the waist up when closed. Often, a casket is what you will see at funerals today, with the bottom lid closed.
Though shape is the most obvious difference, there are a few things one might consider when looking at a casket versus a coffin. When it comes to lining the vessel, the lining of a coffin is usually put in place by the funeral director. This means that the bedding does not come affixed to the casket and attaching it is part of the process. With a casket, the bedding is usually already set up and will just need slight tweaking from the funeral director. Caskets also have an adjustable bed, which allows for better positioning of the deceased. Coffins are more likely made of wood, though green options, such as willow or bamboo do exist. Caskets are often wood or metal, each in different finishes and colors.
Overall, caskets and coffins ultimately fulfill the same purpose, to serve as the vessel in which the deceased will be laid to rest or cremated. Depending on where you are from, one might be more common than the other. Both however, can be chosen to represent the person they will be carrying and can be customized to honor the deceased. They both come in an array of materials, colors, finishes and styles to represent those who that are chosen for.