What is a Celebration of Life ceremony?

Funeral Planning
Life Celebration Ceremony

The loss of a loved one is always difficult, but rather than being a time for grieving, it may also be a time for introspection and reliving happy memories shared with them. This is why a Celebration of Life ceremony is becoming more and more popular. 

A survey of 2,000 people by ICM suggested that 54% wanted their funeral to be a "celebration of life". As a result of this, more and more ceremonies are shifting to Celebration of Life ceremonies instead of formal events of mourning like funerals.

We’ve created a guide to make it easier for you to plan a Celebration of Life ceremony. 

In this guide we’ll be covering:

1. What is a Celebration of Life ceremony?

2. When do you hold a Celebration of Life ceremony?

3. What happens in a Celebration of Life ceremony?

4. How can you plan a Celebration of Life ceremony?

 A Celebration of Life is an event that focuses primarily on the life of a loved one, and the legacy that they leave behind. 

Sometimes, with a party-like atmosphere, a Celebration of Life tends to be just that: a celebration. The focus is on happy memories of the person rather than on the sad fact that they’re no longer with us. This is quite the opposite of a typical funeral.

Unlike Celebration of Life ceremonies, a funeral is frequently a formal type of ceremony held in a church with religious components. A Celebration of Life is a less formal and more joyous occasion. 

Consider it a celebratory memorial ceremony. An example of the differences between the ceremonies is that it is typical for the person's family to ask guests to wear bright colors. This could be to represent the person's  preferences, or perhaps a sports team. It's very different to the black clothing which is normally worn at a Western funeral.

Memories.net can help you create an online memorial for your Celebration of Life ceremony. This can let you showcase the positive impact your loved one had with an easy 1 click slideshow.

In the weeks or months following the person's passing is when a Celebration of Life ceremony is usually held. Even on the anniversary of the person's death, some families opt to have a Celebration of Life ceremony. 

Since the casket is not present at a Celebration of Life ceremony, families will often hold the event after the ashes have been returned, so the urn can be present during the ceremony. This also allows for the inclusion of the scattering of ashes as part of the ceremony. 

Funerals take place between two and seven days following the death of a loved one in many faiths and cultures. This can be very stressful for the family. A Celebration of Life ceremony allows the family of the deceased to take a breath and have time to deal with their loss, meaning the family can arrange a more thorough, meaningful ceremony when the time is right.

Because it is a celebration of the person's life, there will very certainly be memories and stories shared among family and friends. There may be singing or a playlist of the person's most-loved songs. (We've put together a list of 20 uplifting funeral songs to celebrate a life).

Poems may also be read. You may even come across karaoke, an open bar and photo booths with dress up. The activities are really up to the discretion of the family. 

Each Celebration of Life is as unique as the person being honored. The main point is to do something different from "the standard." Food, decorations and the order of ceremonies can be suited to the person and their loved ones. For example, the food being served might include their favorite dishes.

Given the focus will be on celebrating life, you should expect a generally upbeat mood around the event.  There will, of course, be feelings of sadness around the ceremony, and that's perfectly normal. To celebrate life is not to reject the fact of death and sadness, but to move the focus away from the passing itself, and onto the life the person lived and the legacy they left.

A Celebration of Life ceremony is similar to planning any other life celebration, such as a birthday party or a wedding. You'll need to pick a date, venue, and guest list, as well as think about catering, music, personalization, and who will make the big announcements and speeches on the day. 

Because of this, you usually don’t need an official planner, unlike when you're planning a funeral for which you need a funeral director. This means you can save a lot of money and use it towards your Celebration of Life ceremony. 

Let's get into the details of how to plan a Celebration of Life ceremony:

  • Where a celebration of life ceremony should take place

A Celebration of Life isn't normally a formal occasion, so it doesn't have to take place in a funeral home or chapel. The send-off should reflect your loved one's passions in life, so keep that in mind when deciding where to conduct the service. 

Take a look at an area that has significant meaning for you: 

  • Was your loved one a regular at a pub or RSL, or a member of a club that was significant to them?

  • Was there a restaurant, beach, or place they visited frequently?

  • Did they like nature or being outside a lot? In this case, a park or botanic garden might be ideal. 

  • Did they love watching or were they involved with the local footy club, and could you use their field to host it?

  • Or did they enjoy throwing parties or enjoy grilling out in the backyard? 

Considering these interests can help you a lot when deciding on a location for a Celebration of Life ceremony.

  • Find speakers among family and friends who can say a few words

You could choose to invite family members and friends to share a few words, deliver the eulogy, read a poem or perform a piece of music. Consider asking people who were very close with your loved one.

You may even have an "open mic"for any attendees to share a pleasant remembrance of the person person, if it's appropriate. 

Asking attendees to jot down fond memories of your loved one in a memory book is one approach to get more people involved in memory-sharing.

  • Make it unique

When it comes to a Celebration of Life ceremony, there are no restrictions. The sky's the limit!  Consider asking attendees to dress in your loved one's favorite style, rather than the traditional formal black for a funeral.

The music, performer, or film soundtrack of a loved one's choice can serve to establish the tone for a Celebration of Life ceremony. Looking over their record collection is a wonderful place to start. Why not put together a playlist of your loved one's  songs for everyone to listen to? If you need some more ideas, check out our blog on the 21 Songs about friendships and memories

  • Invite guests

A simple (and free) way to invite guests would be to set up a Facebook event that can provide all of the information about the memorial service. Because it's a celebration rather than a traditional funeral, you may even send out electronic invitations to visitors by email or other messaging platforms. More senior guests might still need a phone call or letter sent to them, though.

Any particular requests or details regarding the theme should be mentioned in the invitation so that visitors know what to expect, wear and bring. Include details in the invitation or event notice if you are promoting donations to a specific charity, too.  

In summary

We’ve covered what a Celebration of Life ceremony is, when to hold it, what to include, and how to plan it. 

Make it an event that everyone remembers with happy memories.