Death has its own calendar and has no regard for ours. The holidays don’t exempt us from the cycles of life and death, so you may find yourself facing the decision of whether to hold a funeral over the holiday season. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing a date for the funeral. You could postpone the service until after the holidays or hold the funeral over the holidays - either option is perfectly fine.
Like death itself, funeral homes and crematoriums are part of a 24/7 industry that is constantly at work serving their community. Don’t feel afraid to reach out to a funeral home as soon as you need to, even if it’s on a holiday. They’ve likely experienced situations like yours many times before and will be compassionate and understanding.
One way to help yourself decide whether or not to have a funeral over the holidays is to ask these two questions:
- Will the season of celebration add more positive feelings and memories over the grief you’re experiencing?
- Will the sorrow from your loved one’s passing mar the holiday joy?
A couple more notes. While it is common to hold a funeral during the holidays, most people avoid the days of an actual holiday, preferring to hold the service before or after. This, again, is completely up to you.
Additionally, considering the logistics might be helpful. A funeral might coincide with dates of friends and family being in town for the holidays. While you do not need to plan a funeral around the convenience of others, given the challenges of holiday travel, it might be a salient point to consider.
Ideas for Planning a Funeral During the Holidays
So, you’ve decided that yes, you do want to plan the funeral for during the holiday season. Here are a few ideas to help limit any additional stress and make things as easy as possible.
If Possible, Try to Avoid a Sunday or the Day of a Holiday
The main reason for this advice is that religious leaders will, most likely, not interrupt regularly scheduled services, or holiday services for funerals. To avoid disrupting their congregation, they will usually only hold funeral services on days when the church isn’t being used.
There are a few other reasons to consider that have to do with funeral homes and cemeteries.
- The cemetery may be unavailable or be open for shorter hours on Sundays and holidays.
- Many of your family and friends will likely already be traveling for the holidays and might not be able to change plans.
So, to avoid these hassles, try to choose a day that isn’t a Sunday or a main holiday.
Friday or Saturday Funerals Can Be a Great Option
Instead of the middle of the week, choose a Friday or a Saturday to encourage attendance. Many people likely will want to come and pay their respects, so, if possible, choose a day that accommodates as many people’s schedules as possible. However, many funeral homes close at 5, so if you’re planning an evening service around 6 or 7, it may cost you a little extra.
Have a Conversation with the Funeral Director
A funeral director is in charge of planning funerals and will likely be a source of advice and comfort. With their experience, they can help you with the details of planning a service during the holiday season. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice, a big part of their job is helping people like you through this difficult time.
If You Can, Host Two Funerals
One of the answers to hosting a funeral over the holidays when many people won’t be able to attend is to host two funerals. Of course, this is only if you’re up for it, and it’s fine if you’re not.
You can host one funeral more immediately. This is helpful if there are religious traditions at play and/or it helps provide closure. Then, you could host a second, potentially more casual, service after the holidays that gives more people the opportunity to attend.
Have a Casual Evening Service
Make things slightly easier on yourself and opt for a less formal evening service. You could even call it a candlelit vigil. There is beautiful symbolism in bringing light into the darkness. Keep the service simple and the supply list short. Some of the items to consider include:
- A speaker for music.
- A stand or table for cremated remains.
- Small taper candles and drip paper.
- A printed program. Many funeral homes will do this for you.
Choosing an evening service also gives you more options date-wise, since people will be available, even on weekday evenings.
Be Accommodating About the Date
An important piece to planning a funeral during the holiday season is to remember that some people might not attend due to other holiday and work commitments. Remember that it’s not personal and try to be flexible.
So, if possible, communicate with those closest to you about the date for the funeral. It could be as simple as a group email or text with the available dates from the funeral home. Then, choose the date that the most people will be able to make.
Delaying the Funeral
One reason to delay a funeral until after the holidays is to give more people the opportunity to attend. However, this decision might require more emotional support. If you opt to delay the funeral until after the holiday season, here are a few ideas for making things go as smoothly as possible.
This is a season to practice the most compassionate communication you’re capable of; both with others and yourself. The flip side to this equation is that many people struggle with their composure when faced with a devastating loss. This is understandable, however, given the combination of the holidays likely being different and a big loss, these events might lead to poor communication from family and friends. Be as gracious as you can, say no when you need to and make sure that compassion extends to yourself.
Send Out a Save-the-Date
People in your life are likely awaiting information about the funeral. So, as soon as you’ve decided to delay and choose a date, send out a save-the-date announcement. This is an easy task to delegate out. Or, you could keep things simple and simply send out an email or group text. Another option would be to host a gathering with close friends and family and enlist their help in addressing and stamping save-the-date postcards.
Arrange an Online Meeting
One issue with a delayed funeral might be people feeling anxious about the ambiguity, or worried that they’ll be left out. While it’s not your intention for the delay to cause these emotions, it might be helpful to schedule a virtual meeting of some sort (via phone or zoom, etc.) once you know the details of the delay. It might be awkward given the level of emotion everyone is experiencing but getting the facts out might allow people to become more supportive. Keep it short and sweet and know you don’t need to invite everyone in your life. Your core group of friends and family will likely communicate with the rest of the people who would like to know the details.
Adapt the Traditional Service
After the last couple of years, people are used to big events being delayed. You could also always choose to have a more immediate service for close friends and family and delay the bigger service for after the holidays.
Host a Helping Event Before the Service
Gather close friends and family together before the funeral so they can help you prepare. Good activities for a group helping event are creating keepsakes to be handed out at the funeral, folding programs, and making any decorations you have planned. Not only will this lighten your load, but it gives the people close to you a tangible way to help. Also, this will give people closest to the one who passed an opportunity to share stories, memories and offer each other support.
Find a Grief Group
Delaying a funeral puts you in a sort of emotional limbo. While a grief group is a good idea whether you delay a funeral or not, it might be especially important if you are postponing the official goodbye. There are likely grief support groups in your area. If not, there are support groups online you can join.