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Key Differences Between a Funeral and a Memorial

Gabrielle Applebury
People attending a funeral

Funeral services and memorials share a lot of commonalities. However, there are a few key differences that can help you differentiate these two events that honor a deceased individual.

Difference Between a Funeral and Memorial Service

The main difference between a funeral service and a memorial service is whether the deceased individual's body is present at the gathering. If so, this is considered a funeral, and if not, the service is considered a memorial.

Funeral Service Description

A funeral is a social event that honors a deceased individual. Typically, a funeral will include a wake or visitation, the funeral service, the burial, and a reception afterwards. Additionally:

  • Funerals may or may not have religious undertones, may include prayers, poems, readings, and speeches given by loved ones.
  • Funerals are typically structured events and guests usually have a more formal dress code.
  • Funerals may be held at places of worship, funeral homes, crematoriums, or cemetery chapels.
  • Funerals may last anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours depending on the family's wishes, cultural practices, and beliefs.

What Is a Memorial Service?

A memorial service may take place after the burial of an individual, or in lieu of a funeral service if the individual has been cremated. If the individual has been cremated, their ashes may be present in an urn.

  • At a memorial service, individuals may recite prayers, share cherished memories, sing songs, and give speeches, similar to funerals.
  • How structured or formal a memorial is will depend on the individuals throwing it.
  • Unlike funerals, memorials tend to have more flexibility in where they can be held since no body is present. Memorials may be held at someone's home, at parks, at beaches, restaurants, places of worship, and any other venue that can hold the specific amount of individuals wanting to attend.
  • Memorials can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, although some may go on for longer periods.
Memorial service with pink flowers in the church

Memorial Service vs. Celebration of Life vs. Funeral

A celebration of life is a less traditional social event that honors a deceased individual. These can take place right after the burial or cremation, or even several weeks after the individual passes away. Key differences include:

  • Unlike funerals and some memorials, celebrations of life tend to be less structured and less formal events that honor the life of the deceased individual.
  • Like memorials, and unlike funerals, the body of the deceased individual will not be present. However if they were cremated, their ashes may be displayed in an urn.
  • Celebrations of life may be held in the same venues as memorials since no body is present.

Differences in Funeral and Memorial Attire

In many cases, funerals tend to be more formal events when compared to memorial services. Unless otherwise specified, many funeral dress codes require guests to wear formal dark or black clothing. This depends on the family's customs and specifications, but if not mentioned, it's best to dress nicely and in dark clothing. Memorials are typically less formal events, since they can be held in a variety of locations. Unless specified, guests should wear dark or black business attire clothing, although it doesn't have to be as dressy as funeral attire.

Attending a service dressed in black

Understanding the Differences Between Funerals and Memorial Services

Funeral and memorial services share a lot of commonality, but do have some distinct differences that set them apart. Knowing the difference between memorials and funerals can help you better prepare for what you may experience.

Key Differences Between a Funeral and a Memorial