It’s All In The Family

Successful family reunions represent key milestones in the collective memory of kinfolk. They are events that live on in the minds of relatives as shared bonds, long after the day – or weekend — is over. Reunions should be happy times for people to enjoy and recollect, keeping them grounded to their roots. They are the perfect excuse to gather your family together as it grows and changes, a precious opportunity to celebrate the family’s history, heritage, and recent additions.

Like any big party, family reunions require some planning and foresight, with unique considerations, to go smoothly. Ideally, planning for the reunion should start around six months ahead of time. The first step should be to determine the interest level of various family members. Taking a poll through email or other online methods of preferred dates and locations helps to determine the time and place that is the most conducive to your guests.

Especially for large reunions, experience has shown that green, open-space venues often succeed in drawing out even the most reclusive and shy relatives who might not otherwise show up (if that’s part of the objective). Assumedly, this is because such folks are able to envision making a quick and easy getaway should their agoraphobia overtake them. This makes settings such as large parks very good options to consider, but not just for the introverts in the clan.

Who doesn’t enjoy a scenic outdoorsy locale for a big family party, where everyone can demonstrate their prowess on the badminton court, or loll around with the kids on the soft grass as aromatic smoke rises to the sky from the sizzling barbecue pit? Many vacation spots and state parks employ a “destination manager” who can help with logistics for your reunion. In any case, contact the venue to finalize date and location. Make sure to find out what amenities will be available, including drinking water, cooking facilities, recreation facilities, changing rooms, indoor space (in case of inclement weather), seating, and tables.

Be sure to enlist help from other family members, rather than shouldering the entire burden. This also makes relatives feel included and invested in the gathering. The key support areas to be delegated typically include: identifying and reserving the location; planning the menu; assigning dishes to various family members; arranging for additional cooking equipment (or finding a caterer); decorations, invitations, and signs; activities, and entertainment. Most families have a “coach” type amongst them who enjoys organizing games and fun contests.

You might also consider printing a family tree for everyone. Another option is to gather photographs which are old and new, to share and/or use as centerpieces. A newsletter handout containing notable recent events or achievements for relatives — or even historical anecdotes — gives people something to talk about and share, and a keepsake to take home when the party is over. Be sure to leave plenty of time in advance of the party to finalize plans for reunion favors, video production, family pamphlets, or T-shirts. Nearly everyone enjoys taking something home from the reunion that helps them reflect on fond memories.

When you send out invitations, include finalized times, locations, maps, driving directions, anticipated costs, and a schedule of events. If relevant, include a sign-up sheet for activities. Include assignments for relatives who have volunteered to bring food or other items. If you are producing a newsletter or video in advance, request photos and stories to include. Include an RSVP deadline. Ask attendees to provide their accommodations or arrival information.

These are just a few logistical suggestions. Each family is unique, with its own style of celebration. The important thing is for folks to feel included, comfortable, and free to contribute their own sense of connection to the family to make for a meaningful and fun reunion. When your reunion grows, remember, there is always the option of hiring a fairy godmother to help with the planning, events, and celebrations, so your family reunion goes off without a hitch.