How To Plan A Candlelight Memorial Service For Your Loved One

There are many ways to express our sorrow and love for recently deceased loved one’s. A candlelight memorial service is one way in which we can gather with others and pay our respects. A candlelight vigil differs from other memorial services in that each guest is able to participate in the ceremony by lighting their own candle.

Carrying a flame in remembrance of those past is an ancient tradition that carries on until this day. Hosting a candlelight vigil takes time and preparation as there are many factors to consider. If you have decided to hold a candlelight memorial service for your deceased loved one, continue reading for guidance on how to do so properly. 

What Is A Candlelight Memorial Service For?

A candlelight memorial service can serve multiple purposes. In most cases, candlelight memorial services are meant to remember a person, but they can also be held in memoriam of events,holidays, or to bring awareness to a cause (such as cancer awareness day to remember those who have died of the disease).

Candlelight services are generally held at night and provide an opportunity for a group of people, large or small, to convene and pay their respects. A candlelight memorial service for a deceased friend or family member may be held just after the person has passed, or on the anniversary of their death.

Planning a candlelight memorial service for a loved one who has recently passed may help with the grieving process. It allows friends and family to pay their respects together and provide comfort for one another. A candlelight memorial service is a beautiful and thoughtful way to say goodbye to a deceased loved one.

You do not need to be religious to hold or attend a candlelight memorial service. The tradition of lighting a flame for the deceased holds different meanings for everyone. Candlelight vigils are for anyone who wishes to pay their respects in a meaningful way. 

History Of The Candlelight Vigil

The history of candlelight memorial services dates back thousands of years to our ancient ancestors. Lighting candles or lamps is a tradition that has been part of nearly every culture around the world. It’s been used as a religious or spiritual practice to honor a deceased loved one and signify that their memory lives on and continues to burn bright. 

Candle lighting rituals promote reflection and signify remembrance of the ones we’ve lost. Ancient Macedonians used to burn candles for 40 days straight after the passing of a loved one. It was their belief that candle flame would ward off ghosts or demons that would harm the dead’s immortal soul.

The ancient Greeks and Romans would light candles or torches for their deceased to guide them in the final leg of their journey to the afterlife. Some Asian and European cultures buried their dead with candles or lamps to give them light for their next life. 

To religious people, light is considered pure or good. Light is the opposite or darkness, which is synonymous with evil, therefore light is associated with God. Today, candlelight vigils may hold a variety of different meanings to different people. However, candlelight services are synonymous throughout the world for providing comfort to the grieving and remembering those who have passed. 

Where Is The Best Place To Hold A Candlelight Memorial Service?

Candlelight vigils are typically held in quiet, private spaces where your group can gather without unwanted interruptions. Oftentimes candlelight memorial services are held in places that were special to the deceased, like their school, place of work, or favorite outside park. Other options for holding a candlelight vigil include:


If the family has the space, inviting guests to their home or outdoor space can provide an intimate space for guests to gather and pay their respects. A home gathering may be ideal for smaller candlelight gatherings. 


If you or your deceased loved one are religious, a church can be a good place to hold your candlelight memorial. Religion offers comfort for many of those who are grieving. You can include a prayer or religious hymn with your service. 


An outdoor park provides a spacious and beautiful place in nature for you and your guests to gather. You can choose a park that your deceased loved one visited often while they were alive. 


Beach candlelight vigils are common as they provide a beautiful background for holding your service. Start the candlelight memorial service at sunset and light your candles as the sun begins to disappear behind the ocean. It will be a mesmerizing and memorable way to say goodbye to your loved one.


An auditorium or banquet hall could be a good place to hold a candlelight service for your loved one, especially if you have a larger group. However, you may need to check with the auditorium or banquet hall’s event manager beforehand to ensure they allow such services to be held.

Be Sure To Have A Backup Plan

Whether you decide to hold your candlelight vigil indoors or outdoors, be sure you have a backup plan. Planning an outdoor service will always come with the risk of inclement weather. Should you choose to have an outdoor service, have a backup plan just in case this happens. Plan to have tents, umbrellas, heaters, or have an alternate space in mind where you can move the service to.

You may also want to consider having a backup plan in case the indoor space you planned for your service falls through. Be prepared in either case to ensure you can hold your candlelight memorial service for your loved one. 

How Do I Invite People To The Candlelight Memorial Service?

You can invite people to the candlelight vigil for your loved one by sending out paper invitations or spreading the word through social media. Which method you choose will depend on your personal preference, how many people you want to invite, and whether you intend the vigil to be formal or casual.

For a larger casual service, creating a Facebook or email invite is an acceptable and easy way to get the word out to family and friends. It would also be acceptable to spread the word on other social media platforms like Twitter or Instagram.

Nowadays, most correspondence is done online. Your guests are more likely to see your invitation if it appears as a notification on their phone. Additionally, you could send out a text message invitation if you have your guests cell phone numbers.

If you are planning on opening the service to your community or public, you may consider contacting your local paper or news station. Your local media may be willing to spread the word about the details of the memorial service to their audience. If you’re planning a more formal or private candlelight service for loved one, proper invitations will be more suitable.

Your invitations can be handwritten or printed. There are plenty of online resources for designing and ordering paper invitations for relatively low cost. Paper invitations will be more suitable if you have a smaller guest list or are holding the service in a formal setting. 

Who Should I invite To The Candlelight Memorial Service?

The guestlist for the candlelight vigil can include friends, family members, coworkers, or anyone who may have known the deceased who would like to pay their respects. If you do not know everyone your deceased loved one was close with, you should consider creating an event page online.

An event page will extend the invitation to all who would like to attend the candlelight vigil to show their support. Make sure the event page contains the necessary information such as the location and time of the event as well as any other important info guests may need.

You may also want to extend an invitation to your own friends and family, even if they did not know your deceased loved one. They may want to show their support both for you and your loved one. 

Planning A Candlelight Memorial Service

The first step in planning a candlelight memorial service is to pick a location. Where you hold the service should depend on how large of a gathering you expect, what your budget is (should you need to rent a space), and how accessible it is for your guests to get to.

You’ll then need to decide on the details of the memorial service. Will you be serving food and refreshments? Will you give a speech or ask friends and family to speak? Will there be music or a slideshow in memoriam of your loved one? Below are a few candlelight memorial ideas you may consider for your candlelight vigil. 


You may want to consider playing soft background music to set the mood of the service. Music is a good way to avoid awkward silences and provide comfort and ambience for your guests. You should choose music that is respectful for the situation, meaning death metal or upbeat love songs aren’t a good idea. Relaxing instrumental music or religious tunes are safe bets. Of course, you may also want to include a few of your deceased loved one’s favorite songs into the mix as well. 


It’s customary to provide guests with a short one-page memorial in the form of a pamphlet or card. The memorial can include a short biography of your loved one’s life along with their picture. It may also include the service info such as a timeline of any special events planned for the evening. 


Many candlelight memorial services include leading the group in a special prayer or reading a favorite poem or religious passage of the deceased. Plan to do the reading or prayer in the beginning of the service after guests have lit their candles. A reading or prayer will help guests to connect more emotionally to the deceased. 


Special guests may want to show their support by planning a speech ahead of time to share with the other guests. These speeches will often include memories they shared with the deceased. You may also consider allocating a time for other guests to share their memories of the deceased with the rest of the group. Set a timer of no more than a few minutes per speech to ensure every guest gets a chance to speak if they would like to. 


Lead candlelight vigil guests in a song to commemorate the deceased. You may provide the guests with a printout of the lyrics if you want. The song you choose can be any song that reminds you of the deceased. You could choose their favorite song if you know it, or a religious melody that is fitting. 


A moment of silence can be included in the service as a way for each guest to say goodbye personally. You can plan a moment of silence for anytime during the service. 


You may want to plan a ceremonial gesture for the guests to participate in. Some ideas could include releasing balloons, doves, lighting lanterns, or other ways to honor your loved one. 


Providing a guest book or even a large piece of parchment paper for guests to sign will help grieving guests say goodbye. Encourage service attendees to express their love, sadness, or share their fondest memories of the deceased in their written message. Later, you can frame or display their written condolences in your home. Looking back on the fond memories other people have of you loved one will fill you with fond memories of your own. 


Instead of confining the service to one space, you can plan a walking vigil. A walking vigil involves service guests walking with their lit candles through a designated path outdoors. As you walk, you can lead the group in prayer or song. Walking vigils are just another way to spread the memory of the deceased. It can also be symbolic for walking alongside the deceased on their way to their next life. Be sure you plan a safe route for service guests to walk should you decide on a walking vigil. 

Ways To Remember A Loved One At A Memorial Service


Play a video montage of some of your favorite memories with them. This could include clips you have of them at parties, speeches they gave, or even silly moments you shared together.

You can also include photos of them that can be incorporated into a slideshow. Service guests will be glad to see their friend or loved one memorialized on screen during some of their happier times. 


Plan a theme for the candlelight service that matches the deceased’s personality or heritage. Choose decorations that go with this theme such as the deceased’s favorite color and poems or songs written in their native language.

If the deceased had a sense of humor, maybe include something that is a well-known joke among their friends. For example, you could include decorations or events that center around their favorite cartoon characters or movies. The theme of the service should include anything that reminds you of the deceased. 


Memorialize your loved one by turning their ashes into beautiful jewelry pieces. Cremation jewelry uses your loved one’s ashes to make beautiful pendants, rings, and necklaces. The ashes are mixed with the metal or stone, or sometimes held in a small compartment.

Cremation jewelry allows you to keep a part of your loved one close to you wherever you go. You may feel closer to your loved one wearing their ashes while you attend their memorial service. 


You could ask guests to show their support by asking them to donate to the deceased favorite charity. The donations will be made in the deceased’s name. It will be one way the deceased can live on and leave a legacy. 


Pass out food and beverages to the candlelight memorial service guests that remind you of the deceased. Choose a well-known favorite food or drink of the deceased to be a tribute to their passing. 


If you’re holding the service outside, you may consider planting a tree or shrub to memorialize the deceased’s life. Guests can join you in digging and planting the tree.

Additionally, you could ask guests to bring their own tree, plant, or shrub and start a memorial garden for the deceased. Planting something in memoriam of the deceased is an interactive way for service guests to pay tribute to the deceased. 


Create an online memorial page for the deceased where you can share pictures, videos, and information about the deceased’s life. Allow website visitors to upload their own pictures and comments so they can show their love and support for the deceased.

You can also share photos or videos from the candlelight memorial as well as any other information that pertains to the deceased’s funeral or memorial services. 

What Kind Of Supplies & Equipment Should I have For The Candlelight Memorial Service?

As the host of the event, you will be expected to provide some materials and supplies for the comfort of your guests. How much and what kind of supplies or equipment will depend on your budget and how big of an event you’re planning. Some things you may ask guests to bring for themselves if you are looking to save money. However, you should be prepared with some supplies to ensure the comfort of your guests. Below are some items and supplies you should consider having on hand for your candlelight vigil. 

Candles. Every guest will need a candle to participate in the candlelight memorial and pay their respects. Any kind of candle will do, but generally plain white candles are most used for vigils. Order candles in bulk ahead of time to prepare for the ceremony. You can also ask guests to bring their own if you want to save money. However, it’s a good idea to have extra on hand in case a guest forgets to bring one with them. 

Candle drip protectors. You and your guests will need something to hold your candles in to prevent the wax from dripping. Candle drip protectors come in a variety of styles and materials. They can be relatively inexpensive and purchased in bulk ahead of time to have on hand for your guests. 

Something to light the candles with. Be sure to bring plenty of matches and lighters to light the candles with. Most people will be able to light their candles from the flame of the person standing next to them. But having extra matches on hand won’t hurt. 

Bottles of water available. As a courtesy to your guests, you may want to provide water bottles in case someone gets thirsty. Candlelight memorial services can last anywhere from an hour or more. During that time, people may become thirsty. For their comfort, having water available will be much appreciated. 

Blankets, hand warmers, or wraps. If the service is going to be held outside during a cold month, you may want to bring provisions in case your guests get cold. It would be a good idea to include what guests should wear to the event on the invitation. But in case they come unprepared, your guests will appreciate you providing something to keep them warm.

Snacks and beverages. If you decide to serve snacks or beverages after the service, be sure to have those on hand. You may also want to consider bringing a table to set them up on. Also be sure to bring plenty of napkins, cups, or plastic silverware if necessary. 

Chairs/Something for your guests to sit on. If you plan on holding a lengthy memorial service, you should consider providing guests with a place to sit. Depending on the setting of the service, chairs may be provided. If they are not (if you choose to hold the service outside for example), you may want to bring chairs or even picnic blankets for your guests to sit on. Guests should be encouraged to bring their own chair or blanket as well. Make sure to include this in your invitations. 

Garbage bags. Bring plenty of extra garbage bags to clean up after the event. Depending on where you hold the memorial service, wastebaskets or garbage bags may be provided. However, if you are holding the service outside in a public park, you’ll need to do your own cleanup. 

Fire extinguisher. It would be a good idea to bring a small fire extinguisher to the candlelight service, just in case an accident happens. Anytime you play with fire it’s a good idea to proceed with caution. 

Audio equipment. If you will be doing prayers, reading poems, or letting others speak you will need a microphone and speaker. However, if your group is very small you may be able to do without these things. 

Video camera to record the event. Should you want to record the candlelight memorial service, you may want to hire someone to do it for you. A videographer will bring their own equipment but if you decide to record it on your own, you’ll need to bring something to record it with. Nowadays, cell phones do a pretty good job at recording video. A phone may be all you need to do the job but have a backup just in case. 

A projector. If you plan on showing a short film or slideshow for your guests, you will need a projector to display the images. These can be bought online or in an electronics store. 

A memorial photo displayed. Many memorial services typically have a nice photo of the deceased framed and displayed somewhere at the service. Be sure to plan for this ahead of time as you may need to order a special print of the photo from a photo editing service. 

Where Can I Find Candlelight Memorial Supplies?

You can find most of the supplies you need for a candlelight vigil online and at your local superstore (Walmart or Target for example). Specific items or decorations may need to be bought at specialty stores like church supply stores or even funeral supply stores. Craft stores also carry a wide variety of supplies for decorations and odds and ends.

Sometimes hardware stores will carry candles in bulk. You may also have luck finding items you need in bulk (candles, snacks, water bottles, etc.) at wholesalers like Costco or Sam’s Club. What you need will depend on what kind of service you will be providing. 

Should I Hand Out Favors to the Candlelight Memorial Service Guests?

Favors for service attendees are not typical for candlelight vigils. Often the only keepsake guests take home is their memorial service pamphlet or card. However, if you are hosting a very small and intimate service, you may consider giving each guest a memorial keepsake gift made in honor of the deceased. Memorial keepsakes offer a personal way for friends and family of the deceased to remember them by. They will be a gift that they won’t forget. 


Photo engraved keepsakes with an image of the deceased offer a personal touch. Choose from photo engraved jewelry, keychains, or pendants. A keepsake with the image of your deceased loved one will warm the hearts of the receiver and leave each guest with a special memory to carry with them. 


Fingerprint keepsakes offer a uniquely personal way to remember the deceased. Fingerprint jewelry and keychains use the fingerprint of the deceased to create a beautifully touching keepsake. Guests will essentially be able to take a part of the deceased with them when they leave. 


Metal memorial bookmarks engraved with the name of the deceased, special dates, or a special message or quote are a unique and useful gift for candlelight service guests to take home with them. Avid readers know the importance of keeping their place in books they are reading. A memorial bookmark will remind them of the deceased whenever they sit down to read. 


Memorial coins are clever ways to memorialize the deceased. Memorial coins can be engraved with the deceased’s image, name, and special dates. A memorial coin is a unique memorial keepsake ideas for your guests to carry in their pocket or wallet. 


A memorial photo magnet of the deceased will allow guests to remember the deceased whenever they pass by their refrigerator, mirror, or wherever else they choose to display it. Guests will appreciate something to take home with them to remember their deceased loved one. 

Resources For Planning A Candlelight Memorial Service




Candlelight Memorial Service Frequently Asked Questions

How do you conduct a memorial candlelight service?

To conduct a memorial candlelight service, you must first do the planning. You will need to plan when and where you want the service to take place. Typically, candlelight vigils begin at dusk or after sunset. The location can be indoors or outdoors, at your home, or at a church.

Next you will need to decide what you will be doing at the service. Will you be reading prayers, sharing memories of the deceased, or playing music? Decide how the service will go and plan accordingly. Collect the supplies you will need for the service (candles, snacks, blankets, etc.) and be sure to pack extra in case a guest needs something. Finally, send the word out to your guests via social media, email, or mailed invites (whichever you prefer). 

What do you say at a candlelight memorial service?

A candlelight memorial service is a way to gather with friends and family in honor of the deceased. Together you can support one another in your grief while remembering the loved one you have lost. People usually share memories of the deceased, funny stories, or the good things the deceased accomplished in their lifetime.

The candlelight service is usually led by the host of the service, a religious figure, or someone else who was very close to the deceased. The person leading the service will instruct the group on what to do and when. Typically, they will say something about the deceased themselves and lead the group in a prayer, poem, hymn, or moment of silence. Depending on the type of service, service guests may be allowed to address the group with a few of their own words about the deceased. 

What happens at a candlelight memorial service?

The events of a candlelight memorial service will depend on what the host has planned for the evening. Basic services will include a speech from the host about the deceased followed by a prayer, hymn, or moment of silence. Typically, other guests will then share their stories or memories of the deceased. Music is often played, and sometimes other ceremonial gestures take place, like the release of lanterns or doves. Candlelight services are sometimes followed by food, drinks, and conversation amongst guests. 

Should I take a card to a candlelight service?

It’s common, though not necessary, to take a card, flowers, or other small gift with you to a candlelight memorial service. You can give these tokens of condolences to the host family of the deceased, though oftentimes there will be a special place for guests to leave them at the service. In your card you can share your condolences with the family, write a memory about the deceased, or a message to the deceased themselves. 

How do I know how many candles to get for a candlelight memorial service?

You should be sure to have enough candles for each guest but have extra on hand in case some get damaged or lost. There is also the possibility that candles will burn out before the service is over, meaning guests will need a replacement. You may also want extra candles to place around the room you are holding the event for ambience.

If you have the budget, purchase at least twice as many candles as you think you will need. Hardware stores, wholesalers (like Costco and Sam’s Club), and online retailers should have candles available to buy in bulk. Additionally, you can ask guests to bring candles with them to save money and ensure you have enough to go around. 

What is the purpose of lighting a candle for someone?

The purpose of lighting a candle in remembrance of someone who’s passed is different for everyone. Generally, when candles are lit one by one from the flame of another person’s candle, it is symbolic of spreading a message. Sharing flame with one another is a way of showing support for the deceased and the ones they left behind. Candlelight vigils are also a beautiful way to say goodbye to a loved one. They serve as a memorable way for guests to show their support and grieve with one another. 

What do you wear to a candlelight memorial service? 

What you wear to a candlelight memorial service will depend on what kind of service is being held. The host of the service should be able to tell you what proper attire to wear on the invitation. If they don’t, research the venue the service is being held at. You can contact the managers of the venue and ask them what kind of attire is appropriate for their venue.

For more formal candlelight services, formal wear is typically encouraged. If the service is being held outside, casual attire is typically assumed. Modest style clothing and dark colors are encouraged, especially if the service is being held in a church or religious setting. 

How do I pay for a candlelight memorial service?

Candlelight memorial service expenses are all out of pocket. You and the other organizers (if there are more than one) are expected to pay for the necessary supplies and equipment needed for the service. How much money you will need to spend will depend on what kind of service you plan on holding.

Expenses for a candlelight service can range from low to high depending on how much you are willing to provide. If you do not have a large budget to spare, plan a simple service and ask guests to bring their own supplies such as candles, candle drip protectors, water, snacks, etc. Additionally, you can also crowd source for funds by asking friends and family to contribute to the service. 

Bringing Light To Their Memory

It’s never easy to say goodbye to loved ones but holding a memorial service in honor of your loved one may help to ease the pain. There is comfort in numbers. Your deceased loved one touched the lives of many and it is only fitting that they would want to support you in your time of grief.

Gathering in times of hardship is an ancient human tradition that is meant to show support and comfort for the ones the dead leave behind. A candlelight memorial service is the perfect way to honor your loved one and say goodbye one final time. 

May 31, 2022 by Frances Kay