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What is a Celebration of Life?

When it comes to ceremonies and rituals after losing a loved one, there are a lot of terms that can be confusing. Celebrations of life are a popular way to memorialize and celebrate the life of a loved one and an alternative to a traditional funeral or memorial service.

What is a celebration of life service?

A celebration of life service is a type of memorial service meant for honoring the deceased and celebrating their life. Celebration of life services are exactly how they sound: a celebration of your loved one’s life. The overall tone at a celebration of life is one of joy and celebration at a life well lived. Some things you might encounter at a celebration of life include:

  • Inviting friends & family to share their favorite memories and stories about their loved one
  • Holding the event at a place special to the deceased
  • Asking attendees to wear or bring special items or pieces of clothing to the celebration of life
  • Large celebrations that include many laughs, joy, and excitement
  • A celebration of life themed around something special to the person who passed away (such as a celebration of life held on a boat for those who loved to sail, or one held in the forest for nature lovers)

This is in contrast to most funerals which generally serve as somber occasions, rather than a celebration of a loved one’s life.

What happens at a celebration of life ceremony?

Celebration of life ceremonies usually include a section where the family or loved ones get up and share stories or a eulogy about the deceased. A memorial slideshow or video may be played and the audience might be asked to participate in a reading or prayer. Celebration of life ceremonies can vary widely and can be more conservative and serious, but still celebrating the life of the deceased, or they can be large lively parties and get togethers that focus on joy and exuberance in celebration of a life well lived.

What to say at a celebration of life service

While a celebration of life is a memorial service meant for celebrating the life of the deceased, it’s still an event that requires tact and respect. When giving condolences to the family, you’ll want to express your condolences at the loss of your loved one and relay your sympathy to the family. At the same time, keep the tone of the event in mind when giving your condolences. It’s a good idea to bring up positive memories and stories you have about the deceased as well as the positive impact the person had.

When chatting with others and with the family at a celebration of life, here are some themes you can focus on:

  • Keep the focus on memories that were positive, joyful, exciting, or full of the person's personality
  • Share moments or times you spent with the individual who had passed that were inspiring to you, or affected your life in a positive manner
  • Bring up communities or individuals that were positively affected by the decedent's presence
  • Share something you learned from the decedent or an important life lesson they shared that changed your life for the better

Celebration of life etiquette

Celebrations of life do not follow any hard rules when it comes to etiquette, unlike traditional funeral services. A celebration of life can vary from a small gathering at a park to a large party at a venue; it depends on the family and the deceased.

Celebrations of life are not funerals and while you may be distraught over the loss of a loved one, it was likely the wish of the family and the deceased to hold a celebration of life where they prefer for the life to be celebrated rather than the loss to be mourned. If you feel that you’re too emotional or are on the verge of having an emotional moment, it may be best to excuse yourself so as not to bring down the mood of others at the event. Celebrations of life, while focused on celebration, are still fraught with emotional rawness and are sensitive events, so you shouldn’t feel bad if you need to take a moment.

What to wear to a celebration of life

Some celebrations of life ask for attendees to wear certain colors, outfits, or bring certain items along with them to the party. If there’s no guidelines or attire mentioned, it’s generally advisable to still show up in a relatively put together outfit (such as a button down shirt and nice pants) rather than something more casual or messy.

Celebrating someone’s life doesn’t only have to be done at an in-person event. Creating a memorial website is a great way to invite friends and family to share their favorite memories, comment on others’ stories, and join each other in remembering a loved one.

Create a memorial website

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Last updated February 25, 2022
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