A Celebration of Life, or memorial ceremony, can be held after or instead of a funeral. It can take place wherever feels right to you, rather than in a religious building or a crematorium. You can even hold a Celebration of Life outdoors.
The ceremony focuses on remembering the person who has died, honouring the life they lived and paying tribute to the impact they had on others. A Celebration of Life is usually more informal than a traditional funeral.
There is no standard ceremony, or set ritual, because each person is an individual, so the way they will be remembered and celebrated will be unique to them. A Celebration of Life is an opportunity for the people whose lives that person has touched to come together and share memories of the time that they spent with them.
A Celebration of Life or memorial ceremony can take place in any suitable venue – a community room or school hall, upstairs at a pub, a local hotel or at an outdoor location that was meaningful to the person who has died. You could even have one at home, indoors or in the garden.
If the person who died was not religious, a humanist celebrant is the ideal person to lead the ceremony. They can help you plan a Celebration of Life, and can lead the event on the day. Humanists believe that we each have only one life to live, and that we find purpose and meaning through our relationships with other people and the world around us. These values are expressed in the ceremony.
Find out more about humanism here.
What to include in a celebration of life service
Each ceremony will be different, but here are some Celebration of Life ideas to inspire you in creating an occasion which is joyful, personal, and truly reflects the person whose life you are remembering.
Tributes, memories and stories
What could reflect someone’s life better than sharing stories or anecdotes about them? A few people could each give a short tribute, or there could be an ‘open mic’ session where anyone can share a memory or say a few words.
Alternatively, people could write down their memories of the person who has died, or things that they loved about them. Collect these in a memory box or jar to treasure. The memories could be read out during the ceremony or saved until afterwards.
Poetry and readings
Choose readings or poems that you know the person loved or often quoted. There are also many beautiful, funny or uplifting poems that are suitable for a funeral or a Celebration of Life. Here are five ideas to get you started. Your humanist celebrant will also have plenty more suggestions.
Music can stir up strong emotions, brings back memories, and expresses someone’s personality or tastes. This is why music often plays such a central part of a Celebration of Life ceremony.
Why not make a playlist of the person’s favourite songs; include live or recorded music that reminds you of them; and even get everyone singing or dancing along? For example, Bernie’s friends filmed themselves singing a song that he loved, and the video was played at his funeral.
Photos and videos
Collect photos and videos of the person at all stages of their life from their friends and family. Display these on a photo board so that everyone can see them, or compile a slideshow or photo montage to play on a screen. These are likely to spark fond memories, and probably some laughter too.
Doing something they loved to do
If the person whose life you are celebrating loved the great outdoors, why not hold the ceremony outside, or choose a venue with a beautiful walk nearby? If they loved eating out, could the ceremony take place in their favourite restaurant?
It could be something small and simple. Humbugs were Sarah’s mother’s favourite sweet, so Sarah gave everybody bags of humbugs in memory of her mum. Sarah explains, ‘We wanted the occasion to be joyful – full of little things that would make people smile, and would remind her family and all her many friends of our unique and fabulous mum’.
A dress code
Most people associate funerals with black, formal clothing, but a Celebration of Life often has a more relaxed dress code. This is sometimes because the person who has died has specifically requested that no one wears black, or because the family doesn’t feel it’s fitting for their person.
Instead, you could ask friends and family to come in bright colours, wear the person’s favourite colour or the team colours of their sports team, or simply to dress however they feel most comfortable.
More ideas for a Celebration of Life
A humanist funeral celebrant will be able to suggest many more ideas, based on their experience. They will also ask you questions and listen to what you tell them about the person whose life you will be celebrating. This enables them to combine all of these different elements into a truly unique Celebration of Life service, or memorial ceremony.
Find out the five things you need to know about holding a memorial service, or Celebration of Life after a direct cremation.
We hope our guides will give you ideas about what you might like to include in a ceremony.