The Seasonal Nature of the Funeral Industry

The holiday season is the busiest time for funeral homes. Death rates are highest during the winter months and, more specifically, during the holiday season. Funeral homes offer additional services to cope with the additional demand during the winter months.


The Deadliest Month

It doesn’t seem like the funeral business should be seasonal; after all, most of us cannot choose when we die. However, just like the retail industry, funeral homes experience a noticeable uptick in work during the winter months, which corresponds with an increase in mortalities.

It had previously been hypothesized that the increase in deaths around the winter months was primarily due to increased rates of suicides, homicides, and vehicular deaths associated with the holiday season.

However, according to a study published in Social Sciences & Medicine in October 2010, natural deaths were also abnormally high during the winter months.

The researchers of the study analyzed more than 57 million official U.S. death certificates from a 25-year period, 1979-2004. They found that the index value of deaths in January was highest at 1.1177 (with 1.00 being the average), while the index value for deaths in September was lowest at 0.9298.

The study additionally found that there were more than 42,325 additional deaths from natural causes during the two week Christmas/New Year’s period, even beyond the normal winter increase.

A definite cause for the increase in natural deaths around the holiday seasons has not yet been determined. However, researchers that have studied this phenomenon have come up with the following theories:

  • The holiday season occurs during the coldest time of the year. The cold weather decreases peoples’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to infections and illnesses.
  • Hospitals are operating with less staff or less experienced staff because of the holidays. These strains on resources can cause delays in treatment. 
  • People put off going to the Emergency Room (ER) so that they can spend the holidays with their families. In medical situations where mere seconds or minutes can be the difference between life and death, these delays can be deadly.
  • People who are dying will focus on a day that they want to reach, such as Christmas or New Year’s. Once they reach their target, it has been observed that they tend to rapidly deteriorate.

Whatever the reason, it has been shown that there is a marked increase in deaths during the winter months. It is therefore no surprise that funeral homes tend to be the busiest in January and slowest in the late summer months.


How Funeral Homes Cope with the Busy Season

Funeral home directors are well aware that the funeral business is seasonal and take steps to ensure that they have the resources necessary to keep up with demand during the busy winter months.

Funeral homes address the spike in funeral service needs by:


1. Hiring More Staff:

Many funeral homes hire more staff or pay their current staff overtime to ensure that they are properly staffed during the busy season.


2. Extending Weekday Hours:

Many funeral homes will extend weekday hours to alleviate the strain of the additional business.  


3. Offering Weekend Hours:

Though funeral homes are typically open during normal weekday business hours, many offer additional weekend hours during the busy season.


4. Offering Funeral Alternatives:

Though most cemeteries are open year around, winter burials can be challenging in northern areas. Therefore, many funeral homes will hold the deceased’s body or ashes during the winter months to allow the funeral service to be completed in the spring.


5. Encouraging Off-Season Planning:

When possible, funeral homes strive to perform non-time sensitive businesses during the slower, warmer months. Funeral homes encourage families to use the summer months of make pre-arrangements, purchase cemetery plots, and inter bodies or ashes that have been held since the colder months.

Funeral home directors know that the funeral business is seasonal, with the winter months being the busiest. They also understand that there are extra challenges and psychological tolls associated with deaths during the holiday season.

Therefore, they work hard during the winter months to ensure that they have the staff and resources to keep up with the higher demand.


Writer: Taylor Steed

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