A recent ICM survey revealed that 54% of Brits want their funeral to be a “celebration of life”. But what does that mean exactly, and what do you need to know to plan a celebration of life funeral for a loved one? Let’s take a look.


What is a celebration of life?

A celebration of life is an up-beat alternative to a traditional, sombre funeral. Instead of focusing on the sadness of saying goodbye, a celebration of life service honours someone’s personality and the way they lived. The service centres on happy memories to express how grateful you are for the time you’ve had with the person who has died.

A celebration of life funeral isn’t for everyone. Many families still find great comfort in the familiarity of a traditional send-off. But if the person who died was keen on the idea of a cheerful farewell – or were simply so positive themselves that a gloomy funeral wouldn’t feel right – a celebration of life memorial service may well be the perfect thing.


How to organise a celebration of life service

So, what happens at a celebration of life, and how do you organise it all?

The first step is to find a funeral director who understands the approach you’d like to take. Feel free to reach out to a couple to get a feel for how they work.

Once you’ve found a funeral director, planning a celebration of life memorial service is quite similar to planning a traditional funeral. You’ll need to make key decisions about what the service and the reception will be like. Here, we’ve put together a few celebration of life ideas to get you started.


Celebration of life ideas for the service

  • Change the dress code. Instead of wearing black, guests could wear bright colours, the favourite colour of the person who has died, or even fancy dress.


  • Choose an alternative hearse. Instead of a classic black hearse, you could ask your funeral director to arrange something a bit different. Pick-up trucks, motorbikes, milk floats, Vintage VW campervans, tractors, electric cars, carriages … all are possible. Find something that really suits your loved one’s personality.


  • Pick a colourful coffin. Cardboard coffins now come in a range of colours and with personalised prints as well. You can even get a glitter coffin, if you like. Those wishing to go all-out can get a custom coffin built. Crazy Coffins make incredible unique coffins, with a canal boat and a fighter plane among the options available.



  • Think beyond flowers. Just your loved one’s favourite flowers can be comforting where traditional chrysanthemums and lilies are not. But flowers aren’t the only option. A keen gardener might be celebrated with a vegetable-based arrangement. A carpenter might be buried with his or her tools. Avid readers could be given a display of paper art. Have a think!



  • Go out with a bang. Companies like Heavenly Stars provide fireworks that hold the ashes of someone who has died, so friends and families can scatter them in spectacular fashion. If you’d like something a bit lower key instead, you could give the funeral guests a sparkler each to create a beautiful guard of honour as the coffin is taken to the graveside or crematorium.

If you’d like the celebration of life to be held with the ashes, instead of a coffin – perhaps you’d like friends and family to gather and scatter them together for the service – then you could arrange a direct cremation first. This is a simple and inexpensive cremation without a funeral. Find out more here.


Celebration of life ideas for the reception

  • Make a memory tree. Another popular celebration of life decoration idea. Make copies of your favourite pictures of your loved one and hang them from a tree or a floral display. Ask friends and family to bring their own, and leave blank cards for guests to write messages on and hang them during the reception.


  • Enjoy their favourite foods and drinks. Swap the standard finger foods at the celebration of life’s reception for your loved one’s favourite treats. Perhaps they could always be trusted to finish off a pack of Jammy Dodgers, or brewed up a big batch of mulled wine the minute the weather got cold – these foods can be a thoughtful way to remember them.


  • Release balloons, or doves, or…  Doves or butterflies can be released at the reception. Or, guests can light biodegradable paper lanterns and float them across a local lake or pond at the wake. Or, guests can tie paper messages to biodegradable helium balloons and release them. All these celebration of life party ideas can be very cathartic – just be sure to do your research to prevent harm to local wildlife.


  • Make a memorial slideshow. You could gather together pictures and videos of the person who has died and then project them on a screem at the reception.


  • Decorate the coffin. Invite close family members and friends to help decorate the coffin ahead of the funeral as part of a small celebratory gathering. For example, you could weave flowers into a wicker coffin, or draw, paint or place stickers on a customisable cardboard coffin.


  • Light a fire. Organise a fire pit at the reception. Then, you can ask guests to write messages and (if they like) read them out before adding them to the fire, “sending” them to the person who has died.

One good way to gather photos, videos and stories for a celebration of life is to create an online obituary. Beyond’s free memorial pages let friends and family share their personal memories, videos and snapshots in one place. You can also gather funds for charity, fundraise funeral costs, and spread the word about the unique funeral arrangements – which is really helpful if you’re going for a special dress code. Make an obituary for free here today.


Are you and your family planning a celebration of life? If so, a checklist for everything you need to think about when arranging a farewell is included in our helpful guide, ‘How to Plan a Funeral’, here.

Print this guide