How to Plan a Celebration of Life

Losing a loved one is a difficult emotional experience, but a funeral doesn’t have to be somber memorial. Plenty of people would rather be remembered with a party, and a celebration of life is an upbeat alternative to a traditional funeral. It brings friends and family together for sharing and caring with favorite food, flowers, music, decor and more.

Whatever your loved one's interests or personality, a well-planned celebration of life is a customized event informed by the things that made a person special. It's a personal and uplifting occasion where tears and laughter are equally welcome.

What makes a great celebration of life? Here we outline the essentials for planning a beautiful and fitting tribute. You will learn:

Traditional funeral or celebration of life?

There are two basic types of memorial services: a traditional funeral and the more modern celebration of life.

A celebration of life is a bit like a party with a purpose—and that purpose is to remember a loved one in a personal, festive or fun way. The location can be a funeral home with a reception space, a place of worship, a family member's house or a place that was special to the loved one being celebrated. Sometimes a casket is present, but often a celebration of life takes place weeks or months after burial or cremation.

Celebrations of life can be modest or elaborate. Some retain the elements of a more formal occasion, while others are very casual. A more traditional family might include some of the more traditional elements of a funeral and supplement them with a few festivities. By contrast, some secular families want a huge and literal party, while others want an intimate, easy, no-ritual reception. It's all a matter of personal preference.  

Modern funeral homes are often designed to host contemporary celebrations, with groups gathered together at round tables, as opposed to sitting in pews, and food and beverages shared at catered receptions. Other indoor venues include restaurants, bars, and private homes. Beaches, parks, farms, and shady spots among the trees are also lovely places to host celebrations. Really, anyplace meaningful to the person who has passed is fair game for a celebration of life.

The point is for guests to be together for community and healing conversation. They laugh, talk, remember, cry and comfort one another. The events are often themed to showcase a passion—and they always are intended to help guests reflect on good and cherished times while making a wonderful new memory. 

Rather than a religious leader, a funeral celebrant, family member, friend or other individual might oversee a celebration of life. Services usually reflect the beliefs of the person being celebrated—whether religious, secular or spiritual in nature.

Dependent on religious or cultural beliefs, a traditional funeral service usually lasts a short time, say an hour or two. A celebration of life can also be held in an hour—though if you wish to include food, drinks, music and more, it often lasts longer.

A woman in a fuschia dress performs a dance at an outdoor reception.
Beautiful outdoor table setting with an urn, portrait and flowers.

Imagine funeral planning differently

A funeral or memorial service should be a one-of-a-kind celebration. Everyone has their own unique story. How do you want to tell yours? Imagine is a book full of ideas for creating a beautiful and unforgettable remembrance for yourself or a loved one. Download Imagine to begin planning an unforgettable tribute today.


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