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If you’re looking for a more personal way to say goodbye to your loved one, a celebration of life could be just the thing.

More people than ever are planning a celebration of life instead of a traditional funeral. In fact, the latest research (SunLife 2024) shows that half of all funeral services in 2023 were described as a celebration of life.

To help you plan the send-off you really want for your loved one, we’ve put together some celebration of life ideas, and advice on how to bring it all together. 

What is a celebration of life? 

A celebration of life is an end-of-life event – a service, party, or get-together held in honour of someone’s life. Instead of placing emphasis on loss or the person’s faith, as lots of traditional funerals do, it focuses on the person’s life and the impact they had while they were here. It’s all about concentrating on the good times you had with them and celebrating their personality.  

In a sense, every good, well-written funeral should be a celebration of life, however in recent years, the term has taken on a different and particular meaning; it very often refers to a ceremony occurring in the last few weeks of a person's life.
Mark Taylor Humanists UK

What happens at a celebration of life?

In the video below, funeral professionals talk about some of their most memorable funerals, including a moving celebration of life.

As with all types of funeral, a celebration of life can be whatever you’d like it to be. There’re no strict rules or plan to follow. The main thing is that it’s about focusing on positive feelings and memories, instead of sad ones. This gives you the opportunity to personalise the event. That may mean making a playlist of the person’s favourite music or asking friends and family to share a story instead of a traditional eulogy. Or it could mean asking everyone attending to wear bright colours.

Remember that celebrations of life don’t have to be all or nothing. You can combine elements of a traditional funeral ceremony with a party atmosphere and include music, food and drinks if you like. 

Szczepan Main Image
“…everyone left with a smile on their face because it was a true celebration of Paul’s life.”

How to plan a celebration of life 

There’s no right or wrong way to plan a celebration of life. But in case you need some inspiration or want to know where to start, here are a few things to think about.  

Discuss ideas with your funeral director  

If you’re using a funeral director, you can discuss your ideas with them. They’ll be able to give you ideas and recommendations to make sure everything goes as you’d like.  

Decide when you’d like to hold the event 

If you’re having the celebration of life after the funeral then you can decide when the right time is to hold the event. Or if you’re holding the celebration instead of a funeral you might want to have it soon after your loved one is buried or cremated. Just remember that there’s no pressure – you can start making arrangements immediately or wait weeks, even months to have the ceremony. 

A celebration of life can be part of an informal funeral celebration. It can also be done after the funeral has taken place. It can be held in a special place - somewhere that's really memorable to the person who has passed
Mel Walsh Elemental Ceremonies

Ask family and friends for help 

Do they have any ideas that would work well? Getting other people’s opinions may spark an idea that will remind everyone of what made your loved one special. Whether it’s music, a dress code or an activity that they would have loved, it’ll help to make your celebration special.   

Figure out how many people you’ll invite 

Make a list of everyone you’d like to invite. Close family and friends is a good place to start. Just make sure you branch this out to your loved one’s other networks and communities.

Choose a venue

Once you have a rough idea of numbers you can get a better idea of where to hold the ceremony. If you’re keeping attendees to a minimum, consider hosting at home or in the back garden. Alternatively, you could have a think about your loved one’s favourite places, or their hobbies and interests. Whether it’s a park, the local pub, or the football pitch where their 5 a-side team played each week, it’ll help you figure out details like parking, decorations, catering, and any other celebration of life activities you have in mind.

Decide who will lead the celebration 

Asking a family member or close friend to lead the celebration of life can keep things personal. But if this is a bit overwhelming, consider finding a celebrant who shares your ideas about how you’d like things to be. They’ll be able to help you stick to an order of service if you need to and take away the stress of hosting. 

Organise music 

Celebrating the life of your loved one gives you the opportunity to make their favourite music a special part of the event. Whether that’s playing a specific song that reminds you of them or creating a playlist of their favourite genre so that guests can get up and dance – it’s a great way of making the day all about them. 

Decide on speakers 

Whether you have one person who recites a speech on behalf of everyone or friends and family get up and share their favourite anecdotes, getting an idea of who’d like to speak will help you when it comes to planning a celebration of life. 

Add a personal touch

This is a chance to make your event unique. You could choose to have a three-tiered cake decorated in their favourite colours, or an order of service that’s biodegradable and embedded with wildflower seeds. Maybe you fill the venue with balloons. Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to celebrate the life of your loved one. 

Create and send celebration of life invitations 

Now you’ve got everything planned you can add all the details to the invitations. Make sure you include important details including the date, time, venue and dress code

I always ask the family what they would like me to wear. Not everyone wants all black clothing. I will wear football/rugby shirts or scarves for their favourite team or a brooch representing their interests ie. flowers, robins, feathers.
Adrienne Hodgson-Hoy Celebrating Life With Adrienne

More celebration of life ideas 

  • Make a celebration of life poster board. Ask other family and friends to bring their own photos of them with the person who’s passed away and add captions and quotes as the day goes on. 
  • Book some live music. Nothing says celebration quite like attending a live concert. Whether it’s a tribute act, a live performance from a talented family member or a gospel choir, it’ll help you personalise the day even more. 
  • Make your own favours for guests. This could be as simple as boxing up your loved one’s favourite biscuits for guests to take away with them. 
  • Take the celebration outdoors. If your loved one was a keen hiker or just loved to get outside in nature, you could organise an outdoor celebration of life in their honour. 
A young woman and her mum pose for a photo on a sunny day
“I just wanted to keep it as light as possible. A celebration of her life.”

FAQs

Have more questions about planning a celebration of life? The answers below might help.

What should I wear to a celebration of life?

The simple answer is that it depends. The dress code for a celebration of life is entirely up to the person organising it. If it’s going to be the complete opposite of a traditional funeral, you may want guests to avoid wearing black and choose something brightly coloured instead. You may want to ask them to wear a specific piece of clothing. It could be a type of clothing or accessory that the person who passed away wore regularly and was well known for. Or it could just be a particular colour that they liked.  

How long does a celebration of life last?

A celebration of life service can last as long as you’d like. It could be an hour-long ceremony followed by a wake or you could celebrate in your own way over a few days. Whatever you’re planning, think about family and friends who may not be able to stay for the whole event and how to include them. Depending on how long the celebration of life lasts, you may need to let everyone know what you’re planning in advance so they can make arrangements to attend.  

Do you take anything to a celebration of life?

You may not be expected to take anything to a celebration of life service. Sending a card or flowers is a nice gesture but keep in mind the tone of the event and whether the organiser has requested something in particular on the invitation. The person who passed away may have wanted you to donate to a charity. Or they may just want you to share a memory of them as part of the celebration.  

What do you say to family at a celebration of life?

At a traditional funeral service, it’s common to share your condolences. But at celebrations of life, the focus is on remembering the positive impact the person had. Instead of saying ‘Sorry for your loss’, you could thank them for inviting you. Or perhaps you could share your favourite memory of the person who has passed away.  

Can you have a celebration of life party while still alive?

Of course, anyone can have a celebration of life, at any time. These are often called living funerals and are becoming a more popular way to celebrate someone while they’re still here to be a part of it. Even though they’re often held for someone who’s living with a terminal illness, anyone can choose to have a celebration of life party.