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Celebration of Life Etiquette: A Guide

Celebrations of life often offer a much different atmosphere when compared to funerals, and it can help to know what to expect before attending one. This guide will cover what to wear, what to bring, what to say, and even some celebration of life party ideas if you're in charge of planning one.

Funerals vs. celebrations of life

The main difference between a celebration of life and a funeral is the general mood. Funerals are somber and typically conducted in a church or funeral home with strict rules, etiquette, and dress code (usually black attire). On the other hand, celebration of life events can be full of joy as people come together to celebrate their loved one's life while also sharing memories about them. The dress code is typically more relaxed and can range from casual to semi-formal.

The celebration of life event is often held in a different location than the funeral home, such as a park, church, home, or other venue. This allows for a more relaxed atmosphere where people can come and go as they please. The tone at a celebration of life event is often more bright and interactive, with people sharing memories, laughing, and telling stories about their favorite times with the person who passed away. The purpose of a celebration of life is to focus on celebrating the life of the individual who has passed away instead of focusing on the loss and mourning their passing.

What to say at a celebration of life service

Since the tone at a celebration of life is one of joy and celebration, saying the same exact things you'd say at a funeral can sometimes be considered bad celebration of life etiquette. Here's what you should focus on saying at a celebration of life:

  • Share your favorite memories of the person who has passed away
  • Tell a story about them that made you laugh or a moment they made others laugh
  • Say something about how they lived their life and what you admired most about them
  • Express your gratitude for having known them
  • Share a great story from a time the family may have not heard or known about

There are other things you may want to avoid saying at a celebration of life:

  • Avoid offering platitudes or shallow words of comfort such as, "It'll get easier" or "At least they didn't suffer"
  • Try not to focus on the sadness you may be feeling after the death, this should be kept for a different time or setting
  • Don't share stories that intentionally speak ill of the person who passed or embarrass them

Celebration of life dress code

The dress code for a celebration of life can vary, but typically it is more relaxed than a funeral. You may want to consider wearing something bright and joyful in celebration of the person who has passed away.

Celebrations of life also typically don't have a strict dress code, so you can wear anything from casual to semi-formal attire depending on your preferences and what fits with the general atmosphere at hand. If you're not sure what kind of celebration of life will be hosted or aren't sure if those hosting the event have special requests in mind, be sure to take a look at the memorial website that's been set up for the person who passed away.

What does a woman wear to a celebration of life?

Barring the request for special attire, women typically wear semi-formal clothing that's comfortable and bright at a celebration of life. This could mean anything from a bright sundress to slacks and a blazer. It's best to avoid black clothing as it can give off the wrong vibe in this type of setting, but other muted colors such as navy or gray are usually safe bets.

What does a man wear to a celebration of life?

Men typically wear a shirt and slacks to celebration of life events. Again, it's best not to wear black as that can give off the wrong vibe, but a darker shade such as navy or gray is acceptable. For more information on what to wear, check out this article with celebration of life outfit ideas.

Celebration of life gift ideas

While most celebrations of life won't ask or require that you bring anything (except yourself!), you may feel inclined to bring a small gift or token of remembrance. In most cases, it's best to send these gifts after or before the celebration of life service. Bringing the gift to the event itself isn't typically expected or advised. Here are some celebration of life memorial gifts that you can consider sending before or after the event:

  • Send flowers.
  • Make a memorial donation in their honor or donate to a cause they cared about. (If they have a memorial website, you can do this on the website itself.)
  • Volunteer with a charity they loved or in the community they were a part of.
  • Send a personalized photo frame to the family.
  • Send a piece of memorial jewelry to the family.
  • Send a hand-written note or card to the family to let them know they're in your thoughts. (You can also share a condolence on the memorial website as an alternative to this.)

Planning a celebration of life

In charge of planning a celebration of life party? This may feel like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be! Celebrations of life are typically less formal than funerals, so you'll have a lot more breathing room when it comes to the structure and nature of the event. Here are some tools to get you started:

Common questions about celebrations of life

You may still be stuck with some lingering questions surrounding celebrations of life and what to expect. Here are some of the most common questions, answered.

What's the difference between a funeral, a memorial service, and a celebration of life?

The difference between a celebration of life (which is a type of memorial service) and a funeral is that the body is typically present at a funeral. The body is typically not present at a celebration of life or memorial service. Additionally, funerals are typically held soon after the person has passed away (especially if there's a viewing or wake involved), while a celebration of life or memorial service can be held at any time.

Memorial services can have a more somber atmosphere (similar to a funeral) and not focus on the joy and celebration aspect found in a celebration of life.

How long do celebrations of life typically last?

There's no set time for how long a celebration of life lasts, but generally, they last about as long as a funeral service would last, which is around an hour to an hour and a half.

Do you send flowers to a celebration of life?

You can send flowers to a celebration of life in the same way you'd send flowers to a funeral, but it's typically more appropriate to send flowers to the family's home before or after the service (since there's no casket or centerpiece to display the flowers around).

Is there typically food at a celebration of life?

Celebrations of life typically have food and drinks available to those attending, though the family may have a reception that's separate from the celebration of life event itself.

If you're in charge of planning a celebration of life or know that the family needs help with getting a site up and running, take some time to set up a memorial website for the person who passed away. Memorial websites let you keep everyone up to date with important event details, collect and share condolences and memories, raise funds, and much more.

Create a memorial website

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Last updated December 9, 2021
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