What to Put in a Celebration of Life Program

pink casket with flowers on top

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After someone passes away, you may choose to have a celebration of life rather than a funeral. Or you can have both. There are no hard-and-fast rules on this, but there are some differences between the two events.

Differences Between Celebration of Life and Funeral

While people attend a funeral are there to mourn the deceased, a celebration of life is exactly what it states. You’re there to celebrate the person’s life.

The structure of a celebration of life is more flexible and casual than that of a funeral. It can have a party atmosphere, or you can have people share fun experiences with the deceased person. However you choose to celebrate, it shouldn’t be a sad occasion.

Some people choose to have a funeral reception immediately after a funeral and then a celebration of life a few weeks, months, or even a year later. This gives people some time to grieve and then turn their thoughts to what they enjoyed about the life of the deceased.

Personalize the Event

When you host a celebration of life, personalize it to make it something the deceased would have liked. After all, this is about the person whose life you’re celebrating.

Here are some things to consider when personalizing the celebration of life event:

  • Level of formality – If the person only wore jeans and T-shirts you wouldn’t want guests to wear suits. The opposite also holds true. Be clear on what type of attire you expect so no one feels over or under-dressed.
  • Favorite music – Play music that the deceased would have enjoyed. Whether you play the classical rock, pop, country, or rap. Memories of the person will flood the room when everyone listens.
  • Type of food – Serve the type of food the person enjoyed. If you’re having a buffet, you might consider everyone bringing a dish that reminds them of the deceased. Or you can meet at the person’s favorite restaurant.
  • Activities and passions – You may want to include an activity based on the person’s interests or passions. For example, if she was a conservationist, you may want to have a tree-planting ceremony. Or if he was a fisherman, you may book a deep-sea fishing excursion for the guests.

What to Include in the Program

When you’re designing the program for the celebration of life event, there are certain things you need to include so everyone can follow along and know what to expect. This provides structure for the guests and helps prevent confusion about what to do next.

Here’s a basic outline of what to have:

  • Meet and Greet – This can be for the first half-hour or hour so people have a chance to mingle and share experiences with other people who knew the deceased.
  • Music – If you’re playing music to honor the deceased, include this in the program. List the names of the songs and artists.
  • Food – Whether you’re serving hors d’oeuvres or a meal, set up a time and place for people to get food. Give the guests plenty of time to eat without rushing them.
  • Toasting the Deceased – Stand up and say a few words about the person whose life you’re celebrating. Ask if anyone else has anything they’d like to add. This can be prearranged or spontaneous.
  • Reading – Whether it’s scripture or thoughtful writings from friends and family, this should be uplifting to honor and celebrate the person’s life.
  • Activity – If you’re having an activity, list it on the program. That way people know what to expect and when to expect it.
  • Saying Goodbye – A few minutes before you want the event to end, let the guests know how much you appreciated their participation. You may have someone read a final poem, read a farewell scripture verse, read something prepared to honor the person or even have a last dance to the person’s favorite music.

It’s nice to honor the person you’re celebrating by having a blurb about them in the program. Here are some things you may want to add:

  • Photo of the deceased 
  • Their birthday and date of death
  • Where they were born, their hometown, and where they’ve lived
  • List of family members who preceded them in death and those who are still living
  • Something specific about the person, including career, hobbies, and special interests
  • Charities that the deceased supported so guests know where to send memorial donations

Why Have a Celebration of Life

No one doubts that all lives will eventually end. However, it’s nice to know that every life is significant and should be celebrated. Getting together with friends and loved ones of the deceased adds purpose and meaning to the time they had with him or her. It allows everyone to share meaningful experiences and know that they’re not the only ones who cared about the person.