Are you planning a personal tribute to celebrate the life of a dear one? If you’re looking for more information and answers, from what is a celebration of life, to how you can plan, or what makes this less traditional event different from a funeral, our Farewelling editors have put together a helpful guide to the topic.
If you’re ready to plan and looking for unique ways to celebrate a beautiful life, beautifully, then read on below for 21 different inspirations to help you create a tribute as unforgettable as your loved one, and filled with details that celebrate who they were and what they loved.
21 Celebration of Life Ideas and Themes
1. Religious or Spiritual Celebration of Life.
Some modern churches or spiritual groups are embracing the idea of more joyous tributes, so if your tradition or group is open to it, consult your leaders to find out what might be possible and how you can add details such as modern or upbeat music, storytelling, or other moments to make the tribute truly unique. Even funeral homes are moving toward hosting less traditional events for those who want them.
2. Active Memorial for the Athlete.
If you’ve lost someone who was a fanatical runner, hiker or surfer, consider planning an active event in their honor. Get a group together to meet up and run a mile along a well-loved trail or paddle out to a favorite wave, followed by a gathering where you can join those who may be less active for hot chocolate--or beers served from a surfboard bar--and plenty of shared memories.
3. Eco-friendly Tribute.
Gather in a natural place and celebrate simply. Whether you create an altar with flowers and greenery or make a drum circle lit with soy candles, fill your tribute with low-impact details and nature-inspired readings. In lieu of flowers, ask friends and family to donate to a charitable organization doing work to restore and nurture the planet.
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4. A Cultural Evening.
For a theater, opera or art lover, consider working with a cultural organization--a local gallery or community theater company or school for example--to host a one-of-a-kind event featuring your loved one’s favorites. Or hire a group of actors or singers to come and perform a piece or two at the celebration of life for a moving tribute.
5. Sports Fan Tailgate.
For those die-hard fans, a perfect sendoff might be a tailgate party at the next home game, with barbecue, bourbon and beer. Dress code: jerseys, caps and plenty of team spirit!
6. Red Carpet Glamour.
We recently heard of one amazing Hollywood-obsessed woman who planned her own celebration. She had dealt with a long illness and wanted her loved ones to know how much she appreciated their efforts to help her--transporting her to appointments, staying by her side during difficult times, preparing meals for her. So she mapped out a Red Carpet-style event complete with a walk of stars, a photographer, even awards trophies to thank those who had shown her kindness. Brava!
7. Foodie Fête.
Whether your loved one was a culinary professional, a devoted home baker, or the person who always knew where to get the best cronuts, bbq or pho, consider building a memorial event around their good--and delicious--tastes. This could mean hiring a few food trucks to park outside the gathering venue, creating a potluck theme where folks bring homemade versions of favorite cuisines, or asking their fellow pros to speak--or cook--in honor of your foodie’s memory.
8. More Food: A Restaurant Celebration.
One simple but wonderful way to host a non-traditional celebration of life is to rent a private room--or a whole restaurant--that was beloved by your loved one. If those who knew them knew they could be found at a local spot every Saturday for brunch mimosas, make a reservation to remember them with a weekend toast--and waffles!
9. Golden Sunset Gathering.
If you live in a spot with a beautiful sunset, why not gather folks an hour or so before to share a picnic with stories and songs, then finish with a candle lighting ceremony and a moment of meditation or prayers.
10. Dance-Dance Party-Party.
There are just some people who light up a room--and a dance floor! If the one you’re honoring was the life of the party, why not give them the Best. Last. Party. Ever. Hire a DJ to set up in your backyard or rent the club that was their favorite, turn up the volume, add glow sticks--or fireworks!--and please don’t stop the music.
11. Book Drive Celebration of Life.
Invite friends and family to bring copies of favorite books to donate in honor of a true bookworm. Charitable opportunities include a local literacy program, underserved schools, or a public library. Arrange a short ceremony with readings of favorite passages or poems to start the service, then add a literary-themed cocktail or mocktail as a special refreshment. After the event, gift all those beautiful books to future readers. As an extra touch, order a special stamp to imprint each book with a message of tribute, such as, “This book is donated in honor of John, who never met a word he didn’t like.”
12. Food Bank Farewelling.
If your dear one was active in community issues or volunteering, a memorial service that serves others could be a beautiful tribute. In your memorial website or announcement about the event, ask attendees to bring non-perishable foods such as pasta, beans, cereal, soup and rice. Organize to drop off foods at a local food pantry.
13. Multiple Smaller Celebrations.
Did your loved one have friends from different interest groups or areas? You could choose to honor those interests individually with a smaller gathering for each, held over the course of a year. Eighteen holes with his golf buddies. A memorial picnic with her college friends. Whatever feels right, a select smaller group can give people a chance to share more personally than a bigger gathering will allow, and hosting multiple events may even be helpful in the healing journey, as you’ll hear memories and stories all along the way.
14. Hometown Hero.
Everyone knows at least one. Whether your special person was an essential worker, a local official, a volunteer coach, a proponent of equal justice, or just a friend to all, create a celebration that embraces the local community. Find out if you can use a town hall space or a local sports field or just your block, and invite everyone. Collect photos from friends and neighbors to make a slideshow that honors their legacy with love and warmth.
15. An Afternoon of Zen.
For a smaller celebration of life honoring a loved one who valued meditation or yoga, hire a local practitioner or ask a friend to host an afternoon of peaceful thought and gentle movement in their honor. Serve tea and fruits and offer people the chance to write memories or wishes on cards they can leave in a beautiful basket or box for the family. For a beautiful keepsake for those very close, look at these lovely memorial “parting stones.”
16. Prayer and Story Circle Tribute.
A celebration of life doesn’t need to have a “party” atmosphere. It can also embody the faith and spirit of the person being honored. A beautiful idea is to set up a prayer and story circle memorial and invite friends and family each to share a story about the person along with a prayer. Whether you keep this as an event within your own faith group or invite friends and family of all traditions to participate, this type of circle may be healing and unifying. What an uplifting way to celebrate the life of someone you love.
17. Honoring the Joy of a Young Person’s Life.
It goes without saying that when we lose a young life, there is a special sadness--this type of loss subverts the order of things as we know it. But one way to pay tribute to the beauty of youth is to create a truly personal celebration around who they were and what they loved. Star Wars? Dinosaurs? Skateboarding? Ballet? The Spelling Bee? Whatever it was that made them happy--unicorns or pop stars or books or silly jokes or history--take it and run with it, and shine a light on the gifts they brought to this world and to all who knew them.
18. Flower Power.
We all know at least one person who just adores flowers and/or plants. If you’re honoring someone who had a garden or who always stopped to smell--and admire--the roses, plan a lovely tribute inspired by flora and foliage. You could choose a color or flower to build the celebration around or you could choose a venue teeming with blooms such as a botanical greenhouse, a park conservatory, or even your loved one’s own backyard garden. You might choose to dedicate a bench or tree and make that a part of the service. You could print memory cards on floral paper, or as a small remembrance hand out seed packets for folks to plant in colorful memory.
19. Destination Celebration.
A travel-oriented tribute can honor a special person’s origins, their favorite city, or even a place they’d always dreamed of visiting. This type of celebration offers a chance to experience travel as a way of communion and commemoration. Coordinate details with a local expert to include cultural moments, flavors, or even opportunities to create a lasting legacy in their name, such as planting a palm tree near the beach or adopting a park bench in a bustling city. Even if your goal is to scatter ashes or make a pilgrimage on your loved one’s behalf, traveling together for a purpose can be healing and joyous.
20. Travel-Themed Tribute.
If a destination celebration of life isn’t possible, you can still use travel as a theme for a celebration in honor of someone who loved to collect stamps in their passport. Collect photos from their favorite journeys and display them or make a slide show to share. Set up a table with some of their favorite souvenirs, and if you’ll offer refreshments, let their wanderings inspire the food and drink.
21. On the Water.
If your loved one was a sailor, a weekend fishing fanatic, or just someone who loved to sail, kayak, cruise or canoe, a floating tribute might be perfect. Depending on the size of your group, you could charter a small riverboat, hire a schooner, or book a weekend Caribbean cruise to honor them. If you plan to scatter ashes on the water, make sure to confirm local regulations and check out these lovely scattering “pillows” that are practical and eco-friendly.
Whatever theme or mood you choose, when you plan a celebration of life, make it personal and make it positive. Lift up the beautiful life lived, and honor it with meaningful details throughout.