For better or for worse, family is important. Keeping in touch is difficult enough, let alone actually seeing each other, especially if you don’t live nearby. For these reasons and more, many families hold regular (usually annual) reunions. Whether you’re taking the initiative to host your family’s first ever reunion or your family meets every year at least once a year, we have a guide to help you plan your next one.
No matter how big your reunion is, the most important planning rules are to give yourself plenty of time to plan (most people say you need a minimum of 12 months) and to not be afraid to ask for help. It’s a lot of work to plan a reunion, especially if you have a large family, so it’s okay to delegate tasks, ask people to bring food, etc.
Start with a date and a location. If your family doesn’t hold reunions regularly, you should ask family members when works best for them. But if your family already has a regular family reunion, keep your date as close to the usual date as possible. The location you choose will depend on how long you want the event to last. If it will only be a few hours, you could rent an event hall or pavilion at a park. If it will be an all day affair, or even multiple days, consider reserving a section at a campground, so family members can choose to stay more than one day or not. A backyard or farm is as good a place as any, too, so if a family member has a large piece of property, consider asking them to donate or rent it to the reunion.
You should reserve your location as soon as you have a date. Whether it’s a campground or a hotel or an all-inclusive resort, the earlier you book your stay, the more likely you are to get enough rooms or campsites, and you may even get the rooms at a discount. Don’t forget to ask for the group rates before booking!
Potlucks are very common at family reunions. Your menu will depend on your venue and what, if any, rules it has. Grilling is a great and low-cost options. Hot dogs, hamburgers, shish kabobs, etc. are classics, of course. You can never go wrong with a build-your-own taco bar or deli sandwich bar. As the host, you should provide the meat or the main dishes, but assign certain dishes to other people so that you don’t have to provide everything yourself. It’s okay to be specific with the dishes you assign (chips, salads, fruits, vegetables, desserts) so you don’t have to worry about ending up with 10 bags of potato chips but no potato salad.
If you have the budget for it, hire a caterer! Food is often the most stressful part of planning any event, so hiring someone to take care of it for you is a huge relief.
As a special treat for your family members, get personalized plates, napkins, and/or cups! Everyone will love seeing the family name on the dishes, and the cups make for great souvenirs.
Don’t feel bad about asking people to wear nametags, especially if there are new in-laws and babies or if you have quite a few people coming. Consider how different a teenager can look after they hit puberty – if you don’t see each other very often, there are bound to be a few people you don’t recognize or remember. Nametags will significantly reduce the awkwardness. Large families may want to consider color-coordinated t-shirts or another identifiable item, like a hat. You can easily make your own t-shirts (or even make them as a craft activity at the reunion!) if printing them isn’t in the budget.
- Ice breakers: welcoming committee, blank family tree, agenda, welcome banners
- Traditional lawn games: horseshoes, slip-and-slide, cornhole, Frisbee
- Make things interesting with games like slip-and-slide kickball, a scavenger hunt, or Minute to Win It games
- Board and card games
- Talent show/open mic/karaoke
- Story circle
- Photo sharing: ask guests to bring their favorite old family pictures for everyone to see. If you have one, bring a scanner and a laptop and then scan the pictures and save them to a shared drive, so everyone can have a copy.
- Genealogy display: if you had guests fill in the blank family tree when they arrive, it’s time to stand that up! Show off any newspaper clippings written about family members or any other significant documents and pictures. If you plan far enough ahead, you can reach out to relatives and ask them to share their favorite memories about family members or events or even places from your family’s history. Once you’ve collected them, organize them into packets and print off a few copies
Send out your invitations as early as possible. Specify “descendants of ___” if you aren’t inviting the entire family, or just as a fun title for the reunion! It’s a good idea to send out a text, email, or letter in advance of the invitations too, if you have the date set in stone before you decide on other details. In the invitations themselves, include the date(s), location, times (if relevant), agenda (if you’re having one – see below), whether they need to bring food, and any other special instructions—like if there will be a talent show they should prepare for.
Provide photos, videos, recipes, trinkets, and even music to incite nostalgia. Ask relatives to bring their favorites and set up a table to display everything during the main part of the reunion.
It could help you quite a bit to make an agenda or itinerary for the reunion. Schedule meal times and activities, as well as free time. Your relatives don’t have to follow it, but it’s easier to keep things organized and keep everyone together when there is a clear plan for the day. This is especially important if you have group games like slip-and-slide kickball planned!
Want to do this again next year? Start planning during this one! Ask for volunteers to host the next reunion. If budget is a concern at all, you can have a silent auction or other fundraiser to help either contribute financially towards this reunion or the next one. Pass around a contact list so relatives can make a note of any changes to their contact information. Or, if enough family members are computer-savvy, have a laptop on hand and create a Google Sheet for everyone’s information, so it can easily be shared with the whole family.
Family | Napkins | Plates | Cups | Koozies | Frisbee