If you’re a regular reader of obituary notices, you’ve probably noticed more and more “celebrations of life” are taking place as opposed to standard funeral services. There are several differences between the two services, just as there are several similarities.

For many years, the traditional funeral service began with a viewing or visitation, followed by the funeral, and ending with the burial in a cemetery.

With cremations on the rise, the option of green burials, former COVID restrictions, and countless other reasons, some families are choosing to honor their loved ones in a celebratory manner instead of the final farewell that a traditional service seems to bring.


Why a Celebration of Life?

Sometimes, a somber funeral service doesn’t truly represent a loved one’s legacy. For example, let’s say Aunt Sandy was very flamboyant, dressed in bright colors, and had a great, contagious laugh.

Those who knew Aunt Sandy also knew she wouldn’t want her loved ones sitting through a tear-filled funeral service. She would want a party! In her honor, her family chooses a gathering, encouraging guests to wear bright colors, which portrayed Aunt Sandy’s bubbly personality.

Often, a celebration of life is held following a funeral service. For example, perhaps a loved one was very spiritual and loved singing hymns in church but also enjoyed playing a good round of golf. Following the traditional service, the family gathers at a local golf club and celebrates the life of their loved one, surrounded by the very sport that he or she loved.

A celebration of life can be many things. It can honor a person’s life with photos, speakers, and a meal. It can also be a picnic or party with a collection of items in remembrance of a loved one or trinkets given to each guest. It can be a tribute to a life well lived, an accomplished musician, a star athlete, or a young life gone too soon.

Losing a loved one is hard, and grief is personal. For some, the finality of the burial leaves a wound too deep to comprehend. Celebrating a loved one’s life can be more uplifting; provide a better, happier closure; and not only remind us of the time we had with our loved one, but also remind us we were very blessed to share those happier times with him or her.

When planning a celebration of life, you have several options. Just like a traditional service, you can have a celebrant or clergy to create a personalized memorial. While a celebration of life can take place at a funeral home, many opt for a venue or location that is more suited to their loved one’s lifestyle. 

Typical funerals often include photos or mementos of the deceased, but a celebration of life can include themed decorations, color schemes, a specific dress code, food, and gifts for each guest to take home in remembrance. You can also include a larger array of music, multiple speakers and loved ones sharing memories, and party favors for keepsakes.

A celebration of life allows more opportunities to show a loved one’s true self, to include a more festive and upbeat memorial. It is more flexible, can include more activities, and is open to more creativity.


Traditional Funerals Still Suit Many Families

However, not everyone is comfortable with a celebration, opting for the traditional funeral service to honor a loved one’s passing.

The traditional service is often more spiritual in content. While both types of services can be spiritual, the funeral can sometimes be compared to a church service. It includes hymns and favorite songs of the deceased, with singing, clergy, moments of remembrance, scripture readings, and spiritual guidance.

The funeral is typically held in the funeral home or a church, with a specific order of service. Those in attendance tend to dress up more, unless there’s a special request from the family.

Some funeral services display keepsakes of the deceased, an array of photos and memoirs, and like the celebration of life, have a theme.

Ultimately, the type of service should be what the family is comfortable with in honoring their loved one.

The sky is the limit when planning a service, and if you prefer one over the other and have special requests, you might want to consider preplanning your final arrangements. Not only does this relieve your family of stress, but it is also more cost effective. Plus, you can plan for the service you wish to have, right down to every last detail.


Shelley Hoachlander, office manager for Neill Funeral Homes, Inc., has worked for the company for 22 years. Neill Funeral Homes has two locations, Harrisburg and Camp Hill, and is part of Dignity Memorial. In addition to her duties as office manager, Hoachlander also handles community outreach and event planning.

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