How to Plan Your Family Reunion

These Basic Steps Will Help with Both Large and Small Family Reunions

I was raised in a neighborhood where family and friends lived their entire lives, and where successive generations simply took over where their parents left off. Therefore, it amazes me how all of that changed in a matter of decades. Families are now widely dispersed and this has led to the growing popularity of family reunions. People still want to stay in touch with the cousins, aunts, uncles and siblings on the family tree, if just to see how the newest saplings are progressing.

If you're the person in charge of your family's reunion, here are the steps you'll need to take when you get to work planning it.

  1. Plan your guest list. Will this be a reunion of simply one set of grandparents, their children and grandchildren? Or will this be every individual and their families sharing an ancestry dating back several generations? As you consider the extent of your list, think about how the whole idea of hosting a reunion originated. Was it on the phone talking to your Mom one day as she bemoaned how little she saw her grandchildren? Or was it a group of cousins talking at a family wedding about how they'd all like their families to spend more time together?
  2. If this will be a large reunion, enlist volunteers to assist you. One person can work on accommodations and travel plans, another one can work on activities for the event, another can coordinate the food.
  3. You'll need to settle on a date and a place. Many families hold reunions during the summer because none of the kids would need to miss school. But there are long school-holiday weekends throughout the year that can open up your family's options for location and expense. Poll potential participants to gauge their interest in both attending a reunion as well as the date and place. You can do this informally by phone, by mail or even through email. Don't ask open-ended questions. Give a few specific choices to help build a consensus.
  1. Plan the budget for this gathering. First, you'll need to determine the level of expenditures. Is this going to be a low budget event because your family hasn't won the lottery yet? Or are you part of a family with a large trust fund, and everyone travels first class? The larger the expense, the more time you may need to allow for everyone to save up for the reunion. Then there is the budget for expenditures that won't be borne by each family. Many of these will be your expenses for items such as organizing mailing invitations, long-distance phone calls, name tags, etc. Once you figure that out, you'll need to allocate the costs to each family. Some families hold fund-raisers to pay for these miscellaneous group expenses. They might organize a white elephant auction for the group, or a bake sale.
  1. Next choose the length of the event and location. It can be as simple as a one day party held at Aunt Mary and Uncle Joe's house, or as elaborate as a week long Alaskan cruise.
  2. Planning to feed everyone will be one of the most challenging jobs to accomplish. For a one or two day reunion, many families ask everyone to bring along a few prepared dishes. If that's the case, the most important job you'll have will be making sure you don't get ten ziti casseroles and nothing else. Assign each family a category of food so that the you'll have a good distribution among the courses. Many families like to assemble a heritage cookbook. You can ask everyone to bring the recipe for their dish to the reunion and then have someone gather all of the recipes to turn into a cookbook. However, if no one in your family feels like cooking for this party, you can feed your group at a restaurant, or bring in a caterer to handle all of the meal details.

Next Page: Activities, Memories and Final Thoughts

  1. With large family reunions, activities designed to break the ice are very helpful. Games such as "guess the baby picture" or other ice breakers are fun. Name tags can be very helpful, too. When your group hits the road for activities, such as heading to an amusement park, giving everyone the same tee-shirt is both fun and a good way to keep the connections going during the outing.
  2. For a reunion that extends more than a day, it's useful to have planned activities. Your group can visit a historical site, head to the beach for a clambake, play at a picnic in the park, or even go bowling!
  1. Think about keepsakes for after the event. Will you assemble a scrapbook of pictures from the reunion for everyone? Are you planning a family heritage cookbook? Any of these activities will require a coordinator who will manage the photo-taking and/or gathering of information for the scrapbook or cookbook.

Final Thoughts

  • The more elaborate your reunion in terms of the number of participants, the length of the gathering and the distance traveled, the more time you should allot to planning this event. It may take you over a year to plan your family's first reunion.
  • Reunions may be one-time gatherings or held at regular intervals depending on the finances, distance and interest of your group.
  • In subsequent years it will be easier to plan if you find a format that works for your group and simply duplicate it annually.
  • Once the plans have been made, it's time to send out the official invitations and get deposits for any accommodations that need to be booked in advance.
  • One last word - CAMERAS!