The word “funeral,” often evokes images of black umbrellas, teary faces, or somberly garbed family. You might also imagine a wake or visitation of the body. However, a “celebration of life” is a relatively new term that has gained popularity in recent years. But what is a “Celebration of Life?”

According to Wikipedia,  “A memorial service (or celebration of life) is a funerary ceremony that is performed without the remains of the deceased person.” However, popular culture in North Carolina may often use the term “Celebration of Life” to speak of an actual funeral with the body present. How can you tell the difference then?

Remembering a Life Well Lived

There are many ways to celebrate the uniqueness of a loved one who has passed away. If someone special in your life passes away, you may not want to associate the word “funeral” with their life. The word “funeral” just seems wrong somehow when it applies to someone you love. It is hard to associate the beautiful life you knew with the idea that they are no longer here with you. Using the word “funeral” is often a sad reminder that the person you loved is not here any longer. 

Different Ways to Gather 

Most gatherings to remember a life have cultural or religious traditions underlying their general tone. The dress code and types of gifts or flowers that are appropriate vary accordingly. It is hard to know what to wear or bring to an event if you don’t understand its purpose. The easiest way to understand the meaning of a “Celebration of Life” service is to compare it to other types of gatherings.

A “Funeral” vs “A Celebration of Life”

A funeral service is often a sad and somber occasion focusing on the fact that a person is no longer with us. The body is often present at a funeral.

On the other hand, a celebration of life is often a different tone. There may be less formality, more focus on a life well-lived. Guests may tell lively stories about the deceased and enjoy a relaxed dress code. The family may even plan a themed event around something the person loved. 

A celebration of life doesn’t have the expected grief and somber tone of a funeral. The idea of a celebration of life is to give loved ones a time to celebrate the beautiful qualities and character of the person.

Just Another Name

However, depending on where you live and the dominant cultural overtones, a celebration of life can also be another term for a traditional funeral. Perhaps the language is a bit more upbeat with more focus on a life well-lived.

However, at a funeral with only the name changed to “celebration of life,” the body may be there along with the same traditional receiving line and conservative dress code. 

What About Memorial Services?

A memorial service occurs after a body has been interred or cremated. The memorial is like a celebration of life in that it is often more focused on a life well-lived and less on the body or the graveside service.

Often there is a space of time between death and when a memorial service occurs, so there may be fewer tears and less shock or grief. 

Because of the time-lapse, a memorial service often has a more accepting tone focused on the deceased’s life instead of the sorrow. Often there is an expectation that loved ones remember the good times together. A memorial service might incorporate inspiring stories, creative elements such as candles, or celebrations with the family’s favorite foods.

Check out these common scenarios to decide what to wear and bring to a gathering.

Funeral Services

  • No mailed invitation 
  • The obituary announces the service times and place
  • Recently deceased
  • Most often held at the funeral home or church
  • Graveside service often follows
  • Traditional somber business casual or business formal attire
  • Flowers or gifts of food to the family are the norm

Memorial Service

  • Invitations are common
  • The invitation may state a formal dress code or hint with its casual graphic design and laid-back restaurant setting. If the Memorial is at a state park, it won’t make sense to wear formal attire.
  • Occurs several weeks to several months or a year after the death
  • There is no body at the service although occasionally there may be a scattering of ashes

Celebration of Life

First off, if there is no invitation and the gathering has the above attributes of a funeral, assume it is a funeral and dress for a traditional type funeral (unless you hear otherwise from the family).

If there is an invitation and the body is no longer part of the service, a “celebration of life” is likely not a traditional funeral. Instead, a family generally holds this type of celebration of life so that family or friends can gather and celebrate without the formal and often melancholic aspects of a funeral.

We Can Help

Whether you are planning for a loved one or your own service someday, our expert funeral service counselors can walk you through the choices you need to make. From the type of burial to the kind of service and beyond, our experience helps you make the best decision for your unique situation.

Contact us for a free consultation to discuss your concerns and questions. We are more than happy to work with you to create a ceremony that honors your loved one’s memory and celebrates their life.