With the Labor Day holiday weekend behind us, the winter holidays will be here before you know it — making now the perfect time to start planning ahead for your holiday remembrance service.
And if your funeral home isn’t yet conducting a remembrance service, there’s never been a better time to start taking advantage of this powerful tradition. Not only is it a great way to help your grieving families heal, it’s also a nice opportunity to keep your funeral home’s name visible in your local community.
To give you a feel for what a holiday remembrance service might look like, we interviewed Kevin Spitzer of Spitzer-Miller Funeral Home in Aberdeen, SD, who’s been holding these events for the last 15 years.
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Frazer Consultants — How long has your funeral home been performing holiday memorial services? What was your first event like?
Kevin Spitzer — When we held our first Christmas Service of Remembrance in December of 1997, we said we would count it a success if we had a hundred people sign up — well we had three hundred. We had to get extra chairs set up. We have 300-400 people attend every year. We have a service in the morning and one in the afternoon and it is always the 2nd Saturday in December. In order to involve the community churches we have invited a different minister and musicians each year.
FC — What are your services like now?
KS — Our service is a half hour with Christmas hymns, special music, scripture, five to seven minute sermon and candle lighting. Following the service we have a time of fellowship, apple cider, coffee, cookies and bars which is held in our fellowship hall. We have several people who volunteer to bake for us, keeping the community involved.
FC — What has been the response from your community to your holiday services?
KS — The service is open to the community. We make this offer available to anyone, regardless of which funeral home they have used for their loved one. They are also welcome to purchase ornaments for their loved ones. The families our funeral home has served get one ornament free per family, any additional ornaments can be purchased. We go through about 500 ornaments every year. We have people who have attended several years because they find the service to be healing.
FC — What other advice would you give to other funeral homes that want to start their own holiday remembrance services?
KS — If you are interested in starting the service, keep it short, people don’t want to spend their Saturday at the funeral home.
Tips For Planning
Hopefully, Kevin’s words of wisdom have you excited about the power of holiday remembrance services. If you’re ready to start your own — or if you just want to improve on the services you already offer — check out even more tips below.
Tip #1 — Plan early
If you decide to do a holiday remembrance service, do it right. Don’t wait until the last minute to start planning your event. Doing so increases your odds of making costly mistakes.
To start, pick a date that’s near the holidays, but not so close that you run the risk of overlapping with people’s travel plans. Evening or weekend times work best to prevent family members from having to take off work to attend.
If this is your first time hosting this type of event, consider sending out an early mailing as soon as you’ve set a date and encourage people to RSVP, complemented by a second mailing closer to the actual service. The sooner people start putting the event on their calendars, the sooner you’ll have a good estimate of the number of people that will be attending.
If you anticipate needing to make arrangements with either furniture rentals or catering companies to facilitate your event, start contacting companies now (as many book up quickly during the holiday season). Remember — it’s always better to order more chairs and refreshments than you think you’ll need and be left with extras than to run out at your event!
The same goes for any type of remembrance gift you plan to give out — whether you use Frazer Consultants’ memorial ornaments or some other memento. Even if you do collect RSVPs for your event, you’ll likely wind up with at least a few walk-ins. Plan accordingly and nobody’s feelings will be hurt.
Tip #2 — Consider the question of religion carefully
Kevin’s service involves Christmas hymns, scripture readings and sermons provided by local pastors, but you’ll want to consider your local community carefully before creating an explicitly religious service.
In some communities, families will welcome the opportunity to tie their faith to a remembrance service. In this case, working with local pastors can be a great way to both involve existing congregations and to create a meaningful opportunity to memorialize loved ones.
However, if your funeral home serves a community with many different religious groups, a religious service may alienate potential attendees. In these cases, a non-denominational service — perhaps one led by a Life-Cycle Celebrant instead of a religious figure — might be a better fit.
Tip #3 — Leverage local media sources
The best way to raise awareness about your upcoming holiday remembrance service is with a direct mailing to the families you’ve served, informing them of the nature of the event and how it will help them to commemorate the lives of their loved ones.
That said, this isn’t the only advertising you should do. Reaching out to local media sources — using both traditional press releases and social media contacts — can help to get stories or images promoting your event in front of your community. This will help your event to reach even more people and will create positive press for your funeral home.
Does your funeral home offer holiday remembrance services? If so, share your tips and tricks for hosting a successful event in the comments section below!