What is a Celebration of Life? + How it Differs from a Funeral

What is a celebration of life, and how does it differ from a funeral? Learn everything you need to know in this quick and easy guide.

What happens when you want to honor and celebrate a loved one’s life and legacy, but a traditional funeral feels…well, traditional?

A celebration of life might be the perfect idea.

What is a celebration of life? It’s a gathering that pays tribute to your loved one's life and the joy they brought to those who knew them. It’s personal. It can be intimate or extravagant. It can be anything you want.

You can weave in all the details that your loved one cherished — whether it’s by the seaside, listening to their favorite songs, or even drinking their favorite cocktails.

The atmosphere is uplifting, filled with stories and memories that celebrate the life lived, not the life ended.

Celebration of life vs. Funeral

The decision between a funeral and a celebration of life is a personal one — there's no right or wrong answer.

You should choose the option that feels most authentic and true to the loved one you are honoring. But when there’s so much to factor in — the cost, logistics, the effort that goes into planning, family expectations — it’s not always an easy decision.

Here’s a quick comparison between the two types of goodbyes:


Celebration of life



Flexible; can be held anytime after passing

Usually soon after passing


Celebrating life and positive impact

Mourning and loss, often with a religious undertone


Uplifting, with emphasis on sharing cherished memories

Formal and somber, focused on quiet reflection


High; no need for formal structures
or dress codes

Low; follows a set structure with religious elements


Any significant location

Churches or funeral homes







Which one is right for you?

You’ll hear us say this over and over — there's no right or wrong answer. Because there truly isn’t! 

Here are some steps to help you decide between a celebration of life and a traditional funeral:

Step 1: Reflect on your loved one

Step 2: Consider the family involved

Step 3: Consider the time and budget 

Remember, the most important thing is to create a space that allows for genuine expressions of grief, remembrance, and love in a way that truly honors your loved one and supports your family's healing journey.

How can you personalize a celebration of life?

Here are some ways to weave the essence of your loved one into the celebration:

Choose a location that they love

If they loved the beach, you could have a celebration by the ocean. Were they a passionate gardener? You could find a venue surrounded by blooming flowers.

Choose a location that resonates with who they were. Don't be afraid of unconventional spaces.

Pick a theme that fits their personality

Let their passions be the guiding light. Did they adore the sixties? Were they fans of country music?

You can personalize a celebration of life by incorporating a theme into the event, from dress code to decorations and even the food. 

Make it about the memories

Let the decor add to the celebration. Set up a memory tree adorned with heartfelt notes, or create a digital slideshow where everyone can add photos and videos.

You can even have an open mic where everyone shares fun stories.

Add some music

What’s that one song that reminds you of them?

You could put together a playlist filled with songs that were significant to them, or that simply brought them joy. Maybe someone can do a special performance.

Custom keepsakes and gifts

You can offer guests a tangible reminder of the day.

Perhaps seed packets planted in their memory, a booklet filled with their favorite poems or stories, or a framed photograph with a quote.

Curate a menu

Include their favorite dishes, or if they had a signature recipe, share it with everyone who gathers. 

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain was remembered through special dishes at restaurants around the world, inspired by his travels and his love for food.

Example celebration of life ceremony ideas

Here are some ideas you could use as jumping-off points for planning a celebration of life.

Most of them can be altered slightly to meet the personality of the one you're celebrating, and the preferences of the people invited.

A meal at their favorite restaurant

You can gather friends and family for a meal at your loved one’s favorite restaurant.

It's a personal touch that can make everyone feel connected to your loved one. Plus, this cherished and familiar environment makes it more meaningful to share memories and honor their life. 

Scattering ashes at sea

For those who had a special connection with the ocean, you can plan to scatter ashes at sea.

This can be through a paddle out ceremony, where a few people can take a canoe out in the water, perhaps at sunrise or sunset, to say their goodbyes in a serene and meaningful setting.

Alternatively, you could rent a boat for a larger group of people, and have a small get-together as part of the scattering ceremony.

A memorial potluck

Organize a potluck dinner where each guest brings a dish that reminds them of your loved one. Encourage guests to share the stories behind their chosen dishes.

This communal meal can be held at a community hall or a family home with a spacious backyard.

Host a bonfire

Gather loved ones at a permitted bonfire location in a park, on a beach, or even in your own backyard if space allows. Roast marshmallows, share stories around the crackling fire.

A local musician playing your loved one’s favorite songs can add a special touch.

A cinema-themed party

Use a projector or rent a theater to pay tribute to a movie-lover. You can screen a classic film the deceased loved or create a montage of home movies set to their favorite soundtrack.

After the screening, have a catered reception featuring their favorite dishes or recreate a signature meal they cooked.

A celebratory drive

Rent a double-decker sightseeing bus and take guests on a nostalgic tour through a part of the city or along a scenic route. Play your loved one’s favorite music, share stories, and point out landmarks that were special to them.

You can end the tour with a stop at a diner for a meal together.

A night of music

For a music lover, organize an evening where guests can perform songs that were significant to the celebrant, or from their favorite genre or era.

This could be as simple as a gathering in someone's home with a few instruments, or a more organized event at a local community hall with a small stage.

A picnic or a hike

For the active and outdoorsy, choose a scenic hike that they enjoyed. Keep in mind the age group of people and choose a hike or trail wisely!

You can have a moment of silence, share memories, and maybe plant some seeds in their honor. 

End the day with a picnic lunch at the base of the trail.

Next steps

We hope this guide and the examples help you create a celebration of life event that honors the memory of your loved one. If you’re still planning out your memorial event, consider using Meadow.

At Meadow, we understand the weight of this moment. We offer a more compassionate and meaningful way to celebrate a life well-lived with customized memorial planning services.

Our team of caring memorial planners, partner with you in this tender time to create an occasion as remarkable as the life it honors.

With our licensed team, you can expect:

Explore our Memorial Services.