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Family Reunions

Summer is nearly over. Children are back in school, the leaves are turning red and yellow, and there’s a crisp feeling in the morning air. It’s the perfect time to look ahead to next summer’s family reunion!

The term “family reunion” has dozens of definitions. For the most part, a family reunion is a multi-generational gathering for anywhere from one afternoon to several days. One of the main reasons for having a family reunion is so younger family members can connect with older generations. Attitudes toward family reunions can range from reluctance to enthusiasm, so it’s important to plan ahead to ensure your reunion has something for everyone.

Organize Your Committee

Start with gathering your reunion committee. You’ll need some dependable family members to be on your planning team. Look for a wide variety of skill sets. Is there a creative niece who can come up with a fun theme for your reunion? Do you have an uncle with accounting experience who will help with budgeting? Your cousins in the catering business may have some great ideas for meal planning, and the sister-in-law who stays in touch with everyone would be a natural for organizing the contact list. Family Tree Magazine has some wonderful online planning tips to help you get started.[1]

Place and Time

Some reunions are traditionally held at the same time every year (for example, the first weekend in August), and some are held at the same place. If your reunion space requires a reservation, make those arrangements as soon as possible. Some parks will only accept reservations after the first of the year, so put a calendar reminder on your computer or in your phone to help you remember to make those arrangements. Check the calendar to make sure you have the right dates, and as soon as your reservations are made, let your family know well in advance so they can save the date.

While continuity is a good way to remember to schedule time off or travel arrangements, it can also start feeling repetitive over time. If your reunion participants are mostly local, consider trying something new. An autumn gathering in the canyon could be as much fun as a summer gathering at the lake, and the different venue can provide fresh, new ideas for activities.

Manage Expectations

How will you pay for your reunion? Will everyone bring their own picnic lunch? Is there plenty of seating? Do the planned activities require special shoes, equipment, or a change of clothing? Will your family members need to bring a few dollars for a commemorative group photo or raffle ticket? Planning in advance and letting your participants know what to expect will prevent unwelcome surprises during your reunion.

Cost

There is always some expense involved with family reunions, whether the cost is a park pavilion rental for an afternoon or a large campsite for a weekend. You’ll want to let your family know how much it will cost per person or per family. Offering an “early bird” discount will motivate people to pay early! Venmo and PayPal make it convenient to charge and pay for reunion expenses.

Having a raffle will add cash to your reunion coffers. One beautiful quilt can bring in hundreds of dollars from raffle tickets, and someone will go home with a nice keepsake. If you plan to take a big family photo, determine the cost and collect the money to pay for the photographer or the photos. Let your family know in advance to bring some cash to buy raffle tickets or photos, and put the cash receipts in a metal lockbox for safekeeping.

Activities

Will each family need to provide their own meals? If so, how will they prepare their food? Will they need a propane grill or firewood? And what about seating—is there somewhere for Grandma to sit at the lake, or will she need to bring a camp chair? Your guests will need dry clothing to change into after a planned water fight, and a short hike to a beautiful vista might require sturdy shoes rather than flip-flops. As you are planning activities, think ahead about what everyone will need to participate, and then be sure everyone knows what to bring!

It is always appropriate to incorporate some family history and genealogy into a family reunion, but a nine-year-old’s interest level in genealogy will be different than that of an adult. Consider the ages of your audience when selecting the content or designating the time spent on this activity. For younger relatives, enlist your best story-teller to relate some real experiences from your family’s past, or bring some period costumes for dress-up and skits.

Avoid overscheduling if your reunion is a multi-day affair. Plan on some down time in the afternoon so the adults can visit, babies can nap, and cousins can explore or play games.

Clean Up

Whether your reunion is a few hours or a few days, someone will need to clean up when you’re finished. This usually includes gathering trash and taking it to the designated dumpster, putting tables and chairs away, taking down decorations, and cleaning up leftover food. Assign your clean-up crew well in advance and provide specific instructions for them, so you aren’t left with a lot of work to do alone after the reunion participants say goodbye.

 Stay in Touch

Reunions are wonderful in-person gatherings, but social media has been a game-changer for many who want to stay in touch throughout the year. A family Facebook page or a GroupMe text thread can keep everyone connected between reunions. Administrators of these websites can update family about weddings, funerals, graduations, and relocations, and share information about your next family gathering!

A virtual reunion over Zoom can ease loneliness for relatives who are unable to travel due to health or distance. Consider holding a talent show or family meeting to connect with family members from all over. Gathered Again has some fun game ideas for long-distance reunions to engage every age group.[2]

Whether your extended family is scattered all over the world or within the same zip code, reunions encourage a sense of belonging that spans generations. Take advantage of the many different options for gathering together, and plan now for your next multi-generational reunion!

By Patti

[1] Morton, Sunny Jane. “Online Tools for Planning a Family Reunion,” Family Tree Magazine (https://familytreemagazine.com/reunions/online-tools-for-family-reunion).

[2] “19 Fun Games to Play During Your Virtual Family Reunion,” website, Gathered Again (https://gatheredagain.com/virtual-family-reunion-games).

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