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Choosing Between a Memorial Service or a Celebration of Life

An end-of-life service allows friends and family to honor a loved one who passed. These funeral home services give those who stay behind the opportunity to say goodbye and reflect on the meaning of life and death. A funeral, memorial service, or celebration of life also brings friends and family together to provide support to one another.

A funeral is a custom tradition in the United States. After the 1970s, Americans’ preference for cremations increased, and people started to realize the value of memorial services. During the past few decades, the desire to express a person’s individuality and rejoice in their memories gave rise to celebration of life services.

Today, those who want to commemorate a life can choose from a memorial service or celebration of life. This article takes an in-depth look at both services and the differences between them to help you decide.

A celebration of life is an event where friends and family can say goodbye to a loved one in a personal and unique way. People often view this service in the same light as a wedding or birth, and they want their end-of-life service to be a joyful occasion.

The idea is that those who attend the service should celebrate the person’s life, and it should not be a mournful or somber occasion, even though many may shed a tear. At a celebration of life service, it is not uncommon to see people wearing brightly colored clothing or to hear secular music.


Memorial Service

With a memorial service, the focus is on acknowledging the recent loss as real. Like a celebration of life service, a memorial service also pays tribute to a person’s life, but it is an opportunity to express grief and say goodbye to many people. Usually, the body is not present at a memorial service, which is one of the differences between a memorial service and a funeral.


Key Differences Between a Memorial Service and Celebration of Life

Knowing the differences between a memorial service and celebration of life will make it easier to decide which type of service is more suitable. There are several factors to consider, including the person’s wishes.

During their lifetime, a person may not say, in so many words, that they want a celebration of life or memorial service. However, they may have told their spouse that they want their end-of-life service to be a happy event or a religious ceremony.

The family’s wishes are also significant. For example, if the family members prefer a formal commemoration, a memorial service the appropriate option. However, if a person’s loved ones are going through a difficult time, a celebration of life service and the opportunity to share memories can lift their spirits.



Memorial services typically follow a predetermined program. In the case of a Christian funeral, the memorial service will include a sermon and reading from Scripture. Close family members will also have the opportunity to deliver eulogies.

A celebration of life has less structure than a memorial service. Usually, friends and family come together, share memories, and have dinner. Friends and family can deliver a eulogy or toast during a celebration of life, but usually not as part of a fixed program.


The Focus on Faith

A memorial service or celebration of life can be secular or religious. In practice, religion tends to play a more prominent role at memorial services, while celebrations of life focus on the deceased’s life.

There are no rules, however, and religious end-of-life services vary in their customs. Christian families may want to host a celebration of life while allowing people can pay respects in a religious context. Likewise, a structured memorial service doesn’t have to include religious customs.


General Atmosphere

At a memorial service, people are generally silent, and there is a consecrated atmosphere. Laughter and even casual conversation may be inappropriate, especially with close family members nearby who are in mourning.

During a celebration of life, on the other hand, laughter and talking are more acceptable. There may even be music playing in the background, which creates a livelier atmosphere than the organ and hymns usually heard during a memorial service.


Dress Code

Attendees to a memorial service typically wear conservative or traditional funeral clothing in dark colors such as black or navy. Wearing the appropriate clothing shows respect to the deceased, and it doesn’t detract from the reason for the service.

At a celebration of life, the attendees’ attire can be more casual, but it still has to be respectful. The service location typically determines the dress code.



People usually hold memorial services at a church or funeral home with a crematory. A celebration of life service can take place at any location, including a church, family member’s house, or civic building. Outdoor areas such as a riverbank, botanical garden, or park are also popular locations for these services.

Families often hold celebrations of life at places of significance, such as the deceased’s favorite bar, a restaurant, or clubhouse.


What is a Funeral Service?

A funeral is an end-of-life service where the deceased’s casket is present. At a memorial service, the burial or cremation has already taken place. A memorial service can be part of a funeral or a cremation, depending on the family’s wishes.

A memorial service and funeral are similar in terms of dress code, atmosphere, structure, and location, and people often use the words “funeral” and “memorial service” interchangeably.


Personalize the Funeral Service

When it comes to the commemoration of a loved one, a family has several options available. At Ingram Funeral Home & Crematory, we help families honor their loved ones through a personalized service that brings family and friends together and promotes healing.

Our funeral service professionals in Cumming, GA, can arrange a memorial service or celebration of life to pay tribute to someone you lost. Contact us today to explore the different funeral service options that are available to you.