Yes, funerals can be held at night, but you’ll need to consider a few things first.
We’ll go over these items and also discuss funeral traditions in the United States. We’ll also give you ideas for nighttime funeral services, receptions, or vigils.
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What you will discover is that the funeral industry is slowly changing. Even though basic funeral etiquette remains the same, how and when we have funerals may be different. You may also notice increased attempts of personalization when celebrating a person’s life.
Let’s take a deep dive into the idea of a nighttime funeral. We’ll give you plenty of ideas on scheduling one if that was a wish of the deceased.
Can Funerals Be Held at Night?
Typically, wakes, visitations, or vigils that start late in the afternoon may extend into the night. During these events, the family gathers to receive visitors who offer condolences. Sometimes the body is present at these events and may be displayed in a casket for all to see. During Catholic wakes, the rosary is often recited.
The actual funeral service is typically scheduled for the day (or two days) after the wake, visitation, or vigil. Of course, this funeral schedule is not always followed. More families are choosing to host a visitation that leads to a funeral service. This one-day event usually takes place during the day.
Usually, a funeral service is held during the day for a variety of reasons.
One of the main reasons that funerals are scheduled in the day is that cemeteries typically close at dusk. If you plan to inter the body in a cemetery casket or urn, this part of the service can only occur when the cemetery is open for visitors.
Another reason that funerals are typically held during the day is that many older people prefer not to go out at night because they have a harder time seeing at night. A funeral late in the day may prohibit the older population from attending because they don’t want to drive.
Also, American funerals are often followed by a reception or repast. These gatherings give family members and friends one last opportunity to gather to share memories of the deceased. If the funeral is held at night, this makes gathering for an additional event afterward even more difficult.
Even so, you may be able to schedule an evening or nighttime funeral, especially if the body underwent direct cremation. If there is no casket or urn to inter at a cemetery, this removes the primary reason why funerals are traditionally scheduled during the day.
Even if you prefer to schedule your loved one’s funeral at night, you need to find a church or funeral home to accommodate you during those hours. You also need to find an officiant (and perhaps a musician or AV equipment operator) willing to work at night.
Virtual funeral tip: If you're planning a virtual funeral, you'll face fewer limitations when it comes to the time of day. As long as your online attendees are available, you can hold your virtual funeral in the morning, afternoon, evening, or even at night. We recommend using a service like GatheringUs to help you work out the details and host your virtual event.
Nighttime Funeral Ceremony, Reception, or Vigil Ideas
If you prefer that part or all of your loved one’s funeral services are scheduled at night, here are some ideas on how to make that happen. If you plan a nighttime funeral, make sure you make the fact very clear in the funeral announcement or obituary.
Host a wake, visitation, or vigil at night
If you want to make sure that at least part of your loved one’s funeral service is scheduled at night, consider hosting the wake, visitation, or vigil during the evening hours.
This would give people who work during the day the opportunity to pay their respects without having to miss work. The funeral service could be held the next day.
Host a wake or visitation late in the afternoon, followed by an evening funeral
Suppose a trip to the cemetery is not a necessary part of your loved one’s end-of-life services. In that case, you may consider having the visitation and funeral during the late afternoon and evening.
Schedule an evening funeral and graveside service the next day
Consider having an evening funeral followed by a graveside or scattering service the next day. The outdoor service could be a private family event or open to friends and community members.
Plan a nighttime funeral at a private home, restaurant, or community building
If, for some reason, a nighttime funeral isn’t possible at a funeral home or religious institution, you may consider renting out a restaurant or community building for the service.
Earlier in our country’s history, home funerals were standard. You might consider bringing back this tradition to say goodbye to your loved one.
Plan a scattering service at night
Having a scattering service at sunset would be symbolic, as well as lovely and peaceful. If you would like to say goodbye to your loved one as the sun sets, gather friends and family to scatter the cremains.
Have the funeral during the late afternoon and a reception in the evening
Sometimes people who make their own end-of-life plans request that their friends and family gather for a large party in their honor. If this was part of your loved one’s final wishes, consider having a funeral in the late afternoon or early evening and having a celebration of life after the sun sets.
Mourners can cry over the loss, share memories, and laugh at all the good times they experienced with your loved one.
See if a cemetery in your local area offers nighttime funerals
Followers of some religions attempt to bury their dead within 24 hours of death. Because of this tradition, some cemeteries now offer nighttime funerals with floodlights.
Even if nighttime funerals aren’t the norm, some communities have found that quick funerals are in such high demand that it necessitated this change.
Hold a vigil for your loved one overnight
Earlier in our country’s history, a family member sat up with the body throughout the night. This is still practiced in some communities and faith groups.
If family members aren’t available to sit with the deceased, they may find volunteers or pay someone to complete the task. You may consider ending the vigil with a sunrise funeral service.
Plan a lantern walk
Consider planning a lantern walk for your family member. Light paper lanterns and line the route.
Place photos of your loved one along the path and invite mourners to stop periodically to pray or reflect. You can complete this type of walk with social distancing.
Celebrate your loved one with fireworks
A fireworks show would be another unique end-of-life event. Plan the service for dusk, and after the sky darkens, celebrate your loved one’s life with a fireworks display.
Some companies will even use your loved one’s cremains in the fireworks. This end-of-life service could be the ultimate scattering ceremony.
Release sky lanterns to say goodbye to your loved one
Consider using sky lanterns (here are some eco-friendly options) for another beautiful and meaningful end-of-life service. Mourners can gather together to watch the lanterns disappear into the sky.
Consider your loved one’s beliefs and traditions
Some faith groups have precise ideas on what a funeral service entails. If your loved one was a member of one of these groups, consider saying goodbye the way they would have wanted and expected.
If your loved one’s faith doesn’t dictate certain end-of-life rituals, consider planning a funeral service that works for your unique situation
If your loved one held no particular religious beliefs or traditions, you can choose any format you want for your loved one’s funeral service. You can have three days and nights of events or complete all of the services in one day.
Other Ways to Personalize Your Loved One’s Funeral
Whether you schedule your loved one’s funeral service during the day or at night, you can still personalize the event.
You could personalize your loved one’s urn or casket to reflect a favorite hobby or pastime. You could even choose to have your loved one buried in a team jersey or motorcycle gear.
If your family member didn’t often dress in formal attire, consider asking funeral attendees to wear casual clothing or something that would have suited your loved one’s style.
If a eulogy is given, consider adding personal stories that reflect your loved one in a positive light. Whether the stories are funny or touching is up to you.
Choose hymns or secular music that your loved one would have appreciated or play songs off your loved one’s playlist during the visitation. If your loved one was a musician, you might choose to use a recording of one of their musical performances during the service.
If you have specific ideas of what you would like your funeral to be like, make sure you record your plans and share them with others.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, you have more than just the funeral to think about. Handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.