Wednesday, August 15, 2012

We are Fam-ily: Top 10 Tips for Planning a Reunion

Having survived back-to-back family reunions this summer, I am now feeling like an expert on multi-generational food-based gatherings.

Whether your reunion is annual or scheduled because some aunt said, "we're tired of only getting together at funerals," planning is important.

So here are my 10 tips for planning a family reunion

1. Keep everyone informed.
If your reunion is annual, setting a standing date (third weekend of July, for example) is helpful. A consistent date helps family members schedule their vacation time for travel and helps everyone know to hold that weekend. My family reunion is always in July, close to the birthday of the patriarch of our family. Every year we send out a one-page flyer with the details and the schedule of our weekend-long reunion. This is just a reminder since we keep the schedule nearly the same each year.

Since Husband's reunion was new, his cousin collected emails and set up a website to keep everyone informed of the schedule and hold the date--which was booked nearly a year in advance.

2. Food. Food. Food.
Aside from solving the mystery of what happened to Cousin Eddie's latest wife, there is no more anticipated part of a family reunion than the food.

If the reunion is largely local family, then a carry-in of everyone's signature dishes is always popular. Consider chipping in for some barbeque or do like my family and grill pork chops, either way you are guaranteed to have enough meat.

Homemade ice cream is a big treat for my family and every year the great uncles break out their White Mountain freezers and prepare at least four kinds of ice cream. A delicious way to cool off and a great tradition.

If your crowd is traveling, whipping up a dish from a hotel room isn't practical. You may need to arrange for catering. Make sure that you know who all will be chipping in to pay the bill. During Husband's family reunion each of the three branches of the family was responsible for one meal, making the split even and providing autonomy in what was selected for the menu.

3. Location. Location. Location
The location of the family reunion is a critical decision that will affect attendance. My family is fortunate to live in the same region and to have my grandfather's farm set up as a campground for our annual reunion. Husband's family took advantage of the lodging and recreation opportunities at Hueston Woods State Park.

 4. Activities for each generation.
Hearing about olden days is great talk at family reunions but not as interesting to kids, although I firmly believe kids should know some basic genealogy and be able to converse with distant relatives. It's always good to have a mix of activities at the family reunion, because while sitting for hours telling stories may appeal to one generation, a geocaching trip into the woods with long-lost cousins is fun for other generations. And if you want to have the coolest family reunion ever--then you rent a bouncy house. And don't think it's just for kids.

5. Multi-day format.
I feel like I have alluded to this in other tips, but holding a reunion from 12-2 on a Sunday afternoon is good if you also see these relatives at holidays and people aren't traveling long distances to the gathering.

If you really want to renew relationships and have the opportunity to spend time with your family, then you need to spend more than one afternoon together. A longer format also makes the trip worthwhile to far-flung relatives.

6. Be flexible.
Like any big event, things don't always go as planned at the family reunion. Weather is always a factor. Have an alternative location in mind if plans to eat together outside, for example, aren't practical.

7. Share responsibilities.
Divvy up the responsibilities of the family reunion along the family tree or by generation. Knowing in advance who is responsible for what will make the event go smoother and eliminate anyone feeling put-upon for the planning, on-site logistics or clean-up.

8. Keep records.
At my family's annual reunion we do a headcount during our big Saturday night meal. And we keep a simple notebook that includes information on who was in charge what year, how many people attended and what investments were made in meat or entertainment. My family actually owns its own tables, chairs, freezer, fridge and even portable shower for annual use at the reunions, so we keep records on those items.

Even if your reunion isn't annual, knowing when you had the last one and how often you would like to get together is useful. Keeping a database of family contact information is another important record.

9. Establish traditions.
When family members have traditions to anticipate, it makes the reunion more fun and more of a can't miss event. My family has a hayride each year, a tradition started by my late father and now continued by my brother and Husband.

10. Discover and enjoy your family.
A reunion is what you make of it. If you only talk to the people you see all the time, you won't have the opportunity to discover the richness of your heritage and hear the stories of other generations. I learned something about my great aunt this year at the family reunion I'm not going to ever forget. So get off the lawn chair and mingle! And encourage your children, whether they are teens or elementary age to do the same.


  1. So ... when Morgan and Quinton marry, can Morgan's inlaws come to the family reunions, too? Seriously, good tips. Now I just need to get a farm and larger family.

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