It’s a new year and many of us have big plans and dreams for the coming months. Getting together with family is always a fun thing to do, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve seen your extended family. Gathering the cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, second cousins and so on for a family reunion is always a chance to make memories, share conversations, and laugh together.
I’ve attended quite a few family reunions, on both sides of my family, and they are always fun events. I have fond memories of meeting distant cousins at this event and putting faces to the names on my family tree. For many years, my great-uncle planned a family reunion around his birthdays—when we celebrated his 90th, he invited us back for his 100th birthday party. Unfortunately, he passed away just months before that event, but the family gathered for his birthday anyway to remember and reminisce, the way he would have wanted.
While family reunions are lots of fun, planning the reunion can be stressful for the organizer. Here’s a checklist to help you get started!
1) Talk to the Family Members
When planning a family reunion, things can get confusing, especially when there are many people to juggle. Therefore, you want to ensure that you speak to most family members attending your family reunion to make sure they can attend, where their preferred location is, and any special accommodations to be considered. Plus, it is good to get the whole family on board and be aware of any special dates they cannot attend, like special birthdays or graduations. You also want to be mindful of the holiday season and not schedule a family reunion around that time.
It’s often helpful to have a family “patriarch” or “matriarch” involved in the planning of the reunion, as he or she will be able to contact all the branches of the family to start brainstorming dates and places. For example, my mother-in-law planned a reunion every few years for her family. And as noted, my great-uncle often planned the family reunion for my dad’s side of the family. Just make sure that, when you send out a request for ideas and dates, you set a deadline for responses!
It may be difficult to talk to every family member. Delegating some of the communication could help. For example, if I were to plan a family reunion for my mom’s family, I would reach out to my mom and to each of her siblings, and ask them to discuss the reunion details with their children and grandchildren. You may want to create a spreadsheet, questionnaire, or Google docs for the family members to fill out with the information you need for planning purposes. This could be shared via mail or email—again, ask each family head to pass it on to their individual family members.
2) Set a Date to Gather
After noting special dates to avoid and possible accommodations and starting on the guest list, talk to your family members about when a suitable date is to see each other. Do you want to gather for one day or a week? Do you plan to come together on the weekend or does a weekday work better for your family? You also want to think about the weather. If you gather around winter, it will be cold but prices for some locations will be cheaper. You have more options for outside venues if you gather during the other seasons, but summer may be busier for certain family members or more expensive for certain venues.
As mentioned, my great-uncle often planned a family reunion around his birthday in the fall. My mother-in-law usually planned her reunions for the summer, when people were more free to travel and to stay for a few days. Other family reunions have happened around milestone anniversaries, such as a 50th or 60th wedding anniversary. Consider what dates are significant for your family when planning the reunion, as it can be fun to gather and celebrate a special occasion.
3) Decide the Spending Limit
Depending on what you are going to do for your family reunion, things can get costly. For this reason, you want to set a budget with your family members based on what everyone can afford. Do you want your family reunion to be catered, or will each family member bring something to the potluck? Are you going to do an activity or will you meet in a public park? If you do an activity, it will likely be more costly than gathering in the park.
Another fun idea is to wear family reunion t-shirts. A great way to do this is to design custom t-shirts online. You could pick different colours for different branches of the family or different generations, or maybe make a play on the family name, or put each person’s name on their T-shirt to help facilitate getting to know each other. (I’m terrible at remembering names and faces, so name tags or names on T-shirts are super helpful!)
4) Choose a Location and Gather
As stated above, do you want to do an activity or go somewhere that is more simple? After all the details of the date, deciding the spending limit, and making your family members aware that there will be a reunion, you want to talk to your family to choose a location everyone agrees to attend. You can always gather at a family member’s house or pick a place like a bowling alley. You could also choose a place such as a hotel ballroom or a local community centre, but those options can get pricey so you might want to pick a venue that is in their off-season to save some money. After you’ve chosen your location, all that is left is to wait for the date and gather to enjoy some much-needed family time together.
We’ve always planned family reunions in the summer, where the gathering can spill outside. My mother-in-law hosted her reunions at her farm, where there was plenty of room for croquet on the lawn, walks through the surrounding forest, and picnic tables to be spread out for eating. My great-uncle usually booked the local hall, and we’d set up long tables of food at one end of the hall and long tables for board games and visiting at the other end of the hall, with baseball and horseshoes happening outside. At both events, family members showed up with RVs and tents to spend at least one night if they were driving from further away.
5) Foster Connections
Invite family members to bring photo albums to the reunion to share memories. My grandparents had many black-and-white photos from the early days of homesteading on their farm or my dad’s childhood. It was always fun to browse through those photos and hear the stories. If family members have photos, stories, or other family mementos like this, invite them to bring these to share. This can also be a great way to get the younger generations interested in family history.
It may also be helpful to create a family tree (or multiple family trees) to help picture who is who in the family. If you have a large family (like my grandpa’s six siblings), each branch of the family may want to create a family tree. If we did that at my family reunion, there’d be seven family trees, one for my grandpa and one for each of his siblings. Then we could try to figure out the second cousins, and second-cousins-once-removed, and all the other obscure relations in the family.
After one of my mother-in-law’s family reunions, her niece made a family calendar. It included photos from the reunion and also listed each person’s birthday and the wedding anniversaries for all the couples. This was a fun way to feel connected with the people we’d met at the family reunion throughout the following year. Again, if there are many family members involved, you may want to ask them to pitch some money towards such an idea, but you can get bulk discounts on large orders of photo calendars.
A family reunion is a great way to see family members you have not seen in a while or that live in different places. Even if the planning is stressful, it will be worth it in the end!
Have you tried planning a family reunion? What tips would you share? What helped bring your family together?