How to Plan a Family Reunion

At every family gathering, one of my relatives likes to state that “You can’t choose your relatives.” She smiles proudly and we laugh because we know we’re very lucky to have a fun family, despite our peculiarities, dysfunctions, and strong Irish personalities. However, everyone agrees with her: you can’t really choose your relatives. You’ll be a lifetime member of the club, whether you like it or not. Shared DNA, memories, secrets, and histories keep you all connected. Basically, you’re stuck together. It can’t be that bad, right?

The idea of bringing all of your relatives together at the same place could fill you with excitement, fear, or both. You probably intend to politely avoid running into your Cousin Ernie, who decided to rename himself “The Blue Shaman” and start his own religion. It is possible that your “nice and normal” family isn’t actually either normal or nice. Maybe those annoying political conversations with your Aunt Myrtle give you a stress rash, or perhaps your squirrel-eating cousins make you cringe. But you know what? It’s important for families to be together, despite your differences. A family reunion is a nice, temporary and special way to accomplish that, and here you’re going to learn how to organize a family reunion without losing it.

How to Plan a Family Reunion
How to Plan a Family Reunion

Planning a Family Reunion 101

Where can we start? Before becoming a writer, one of my several careers involved owning an event planner business. I planned every little detail from corporate retreats for 50 people to fundraising dinners for 800. It wasn’t always easy, but I did really enjoy my job. Back then I learned that every wedding, fundraiser, family reunion, or any other memorable occasion, always starts with a well thought out plan. That’s why I created this family reunion planning guide to help you out with the process.

Continue reading for some tips on how to plan a family reunion that your family will never forget (in a good way, of course!)

The Sooner, The Better

You should ideally start planning your family reunion at least six months to a year beforehand. The first task you have to deal with is picking a date.

Begin with sending an initial e-mail or letter to your potential guests to let them know you are planning a family reunion. Make a list with several possible dates and ask family members to rank their preferences and indicate which dates wouldn’t work for them. If you don’t want to be stuck checking a bunch of rankings, send them an online poll so they can vote on dates and do all the work for you. (You’re welcome.)

Keep in mind that if your guest list includes more than 25 people, the chances of you finding a date that works for everyone are extremely low. If that’s your case, just choose the date with the highest percentage of possible guests and stick with it.

Union Is Strength

If you want your family reunion to be a memorable and fun day for everyone, including yourself, don’t do it on your own!

Right after choosing the date, send your guests another note asking for volunteers to help you with the organization and execution of the special event.

To start with the family reunion planning, create a list of different areas of responsibility, such as invitations, decorations, food, name tags and souvenirs, venue or hotel arrangements, activities, and games, etc. Don’t forget to ask the volunteers which areas they prefer, as things will be way better if people work following their skills and interests. For instance, if your vegan Cousin Darla is planning a BBQ, things might not go well, or if your Uncle Dwight isn’t great with details, asking him to book the hotel for the family reunion wouldn’t be a good idea.

We’ll talk more about money in the following section, but it’s important that you consider their budgets when you ask your relatives for help. Even when party decoration seems to be an important part of the event, keep in mind that what really matters is spending time together as a family, and not how luxurious the centerpieces were. For instance, party decorations can consist of banners and signs, which are an awesome way to give the reunion a lovely look without splurging.

Consider creating a private Facebook group for families spread far and wide, so you can keep everyone in the loop. This an excellent way to keep in touch and spread excitement in the weeks and months ahead!

Planning a Family Reunion
Planning a Family Reunion

Budgets, Feasts, and Smörgåsbords

A great family reunion should be affordable for most family members as possible, no matter their age or stage in life. This means you have to make sure the event is accessible to young families just starting out, seniors on fixed incomes, and everyone in between.

If budgets are an issue, the main reunion event should be accessible for everyone, such as a gathering in the park or a backyard barbecue. For those who can afford to spend a bit more money and time, you can organize extra activities or side trips.

Many people consider sharing a group meal the highlight of a family gathering, so asking guests to bring a potluck dish to share might be one of the ways to save money when you organize a family reunion and have a good time sharing their favorite family recipes. If it is within the budget, you could find a good restaurant to eat at as a family or get some food to go.

Commemoratives and Party Favors

The following tips will give you some ideas for family reunions that will add a great and memorable touch to your event:

Matching T-shirts: Several hilarious matching family reunion t-shirts can be found on Pinterest. You know, the ones with the same slogan for all reunion members. You can always look up creative slogans for your family reunion to make your own t-shirts too! You might see phrases like “I’m mother’s favorite,” or “It’s my family’s fault,” or “I don’t know these people, I swear,” or “Someone insisted on everyone wearing the same shirt.” Let the sky be the limit! Order those customized napkins and cups too. It makes the occasion way more special!

Family Cookbook: You can even send everyone back home with a reunion cookbook (this will require a little pre-planning, of course). Ask everyone to copy their recipe onto 8.5×11 inch pieces of paper, one copy per family member. If they’d like to write down a story to go along with the recipe, that’s way better! The cookbook organizer should be in charge of the hole punch and binders, and then put a copy of each recipe in the binders.

Family Reunion Planning
Family Reunion Planning

Take Family Photos: If your family is like mine, it means we don’t get together very often, so why wouldn’t you have some evidence of this extraordinary event? Hire a photographer or ask a family member to be in charge of the group photos. Everyone will love their copy.

Slide Show: Get some popcorn and gather around a slide projector to recall some family memories. It’s an amazing way to remember those who aren’t around anymore, and it’s always pretty awesome for the younger ones to be able to see what we wore in the 70’s, the way our hair looked in the 80’s or how stunning grandma was when she was 20.

Interview the Elders: Make some of the grand-kids interview the elders of your family. They’ll share their favorite stories, secrets, and even wisdom with the rest of the family. The results will be treasured by everyone for many years.

Activities, Games, and Icebreakers

At a family reunion, having things to do that include guests of all ages and abilities is very important. With a bit of creativity, you can come up with activities that will let everyone participate, no matter if they are young, old, or differently-abled.

For instance, if a family softball game is part of your plans, bring along some pom-poms and name great grandma the head cheerleader. Activities such as a trivia game with questions centered on your family history, a water balloon fight, or a sunflower seed spitting contest will ensure that everyone participates and has an awesome day.

Also, keep in mind that being a family doesn’t mean your guests will know each other. Having one or two icebreakers early in the day might help guests talk to each other and get along more easily.

Family Trivia is another way to share memories and have a great deal of fun! Try to focus the questions on positive subjects rather than negative ones. Or maybe on both, as it’s just for entertainment.

What You Shouldn’t Do at Your Family Reunion

– Don’t schedule an activity for every minute of the party and don’t insist that everyone participates in all of them. Most people would be grateful for just having the chance to sit down and catch up on their relatives.

– Don’t forget to ask your family members to turn off their phones that day or leave them at home if possible.

– Don’t bring up topics that are controversial or cause tension in the family. For instance, avoid talking about Aunt Linda’s fifth marriage, or having political discussions. All families have at least one topic they aren’t allowed to mention when mom’s around, so don’t do it! If an argument begins, change the subject or start a distraction, such as faking an injury or bringing out brownies.

– Be careful with the alcohol. If you choose to serve it, think carefully about how accessible you want it to be. It can be easy to drink a little too much on a hot summer day spent outdoors, and it could quickly ruin your gathering if your Cousin Louie and your Uncle Jasper start a drunken fight. To avoid this, think twice before getting the alcohol and make sure you have plenty of non-alcoholic, refreshing beverages for everyone.

– Don’t forget to have your first-aid kit at hand. Despite you’re not expecting your cousin to get severely injured, cuts, bruises, and bug bites are quite common, so be prepared.

Summer is a fantastic season for a family reunion! Now that you know how to plan a family reunion, it doesn’t seem so difficult, right? With some creativity, pre-planning, and cooperation, your next family reunion can be a memorable occasion that people will treasure for years to come.

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