Help & Advice Arranging a Funeral

A guide to planning a celebration of life

There are a number of different types of funeral service. A celebration of life is just one option. Read our guide to find out more about celebrations of life and things to consider when planning one.

What is a celebration of life?

A celebration of life is a more cheerful alternative to a traditional funeral service.  It can either be part of a non-religious funeral service, or held as a separate memorial occasion weeks or months after the burial or cremation. Rather than focussing on the sadness of a loved one passing away, it celebrates their life and all the joy it brought. Like any funeral, a celebration of life can be a crucial step in the grieving process and is an opportunity for loved ones to share their positive, happy memories.

If this sounds like something you’d like to explore for your loved ones funeral plans, read our celebration of life ideas and tips below. Here are some things to consider, which we will expand on in more detail below:


  • Dress code – the traditional colour for funerals is black, however at a celebration of life, mourners might wear your loved one’s favourite colour or print.
  • Transport – instead of a traditional hearse, you could organise something a bit different to carry the coffin. A VW campervan or a horse-drawn carriage are popular options.
  • Coffin – coffins can come in a range of colours and prints. Try opting for one that expresses the individuality of your loved one.
  • Day and time – a celebration of life is not restricted to a particular time of day or day of the week. Consider a weekend, early evening or night time memorial service if it suits you better. Candles, fairy lights and fireworks with a night time or ‘twilight’ memorial service to mark your loved one’s final journey create a soft ambience.
  • Venue – There are lots of places which will host a service for you. It doesn’t have to be held in a church or crematorium. Speak to your funeral director for more information.
  • Music and readings – our guides for uplifting hymns, reflection music for funerals and poems suitable for funeral readings may be useful.
  • Memory board or table – ask guests to write a personal message or bring a photo or item that represents the person who has passed away.

7 steps for planning a celebration of life

Now that you know what makes a celebration of life, here are our 7 tips for planning a memorial for your loved one:

1. Plan who will help you arrange your celebration of life

Like with a traditional funeral, a funeral director should be able to help you organise a unique celebration of life for your loved one. You can also speak with them about options for coffins and hearses that are suited to the deceased person.

2. Decide on an idea

Celebration of life services can be a wonderful opportunity for family and friends to share happy memories and commemorate their loved one. The shape that the memorial service takes will depend on the individual, and is highly personal. Some ideas include:

  • Planting a memorial tree
  • Hosting a campfire gathering
  • Creating a quote board
  • Hosting an open mic or karaoke night
  • Taking a painting or pottery class together
  • Hosting a BBQ or dinner party
  • Celebrating with live music
  • Sharing a memorial slide show featuring photos

3. Send out an invitation

Just like with a funeral service, many people choose to send out personalised invitations for a celebration of life service. It’s not essential, but can be a good idea for letting friends and family of the person who has died know when to come along. Alternatively, a paper-free option is to create a social media invitation listing all the details: where the service is taking place, whether there’s a dress code, if there will be food and drink, and any other special requests.

Guests might be wondering whether they should bring something along to the service, or send flowers. The invitation is the ideal place to clarify whether you’d prefer charity donations in lieu of flowers, for example.

4. Invite guests to speak

Some families choose to dedicate a portion of the celebration of life service for family and friends to speak. Like a funeral service, this could be reading eulogies, poems or uplifting readings. There could also be a special part of the service where family members can share memories of the person who has died. Let your guests know that there will be opportunities to speak ahead of time, and give them the chance to prepare something.

5. Decide on a dress code

A celebration of life presents an opportunity to break with tradition and choose a dress code that expresses the wishes of the person who has passed away. Some people choose bright or sparkly clothing, for example. More often than not, it is still appropriate to stick to modest clothing for funeral attire, even for a non-traditional celebration of life. Read our guide on what to wear to a funeral for more information.

6. Plan who will lead the proceedings

When you plan a celebration of life, with religious and non-religious services alike, you’ll need someone to officiate the service. This could be a celebrant or close family member, and their role will be to lead the proceedings and coordinate the other people taking part in the service. If you need help organising someone to run this service, speak to our friendly team here at Gillman Funeral Service.

7. Create a video

Use a phone to video friends and family as they share their favourite stories and memories of your loved one. These can then be edited together into a simple video. It doesn’t need to be complicated – just something that preserves cherished memories.

Can we help you arrange a celebration of life?

Get in touch with our friendly team here at Gillman Funeral Service through our contact page or alternatively, please use our live chat.

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