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Tips for Planning a Successful Family Reunion

Colorful chairs under a tree to relax in during a family reunion

A family reunion offers a great opportunity for far-flung family members to come together. Family members can meet and learn more about each other. However, planning these events requires time and effort. The larger the family, the more complicated the planning. Take the following tips into consideration to increase the chance of a successful event.

Start Early

Plan at least a one to two years in advance. This gives plenty of time for you to plan the details of the event. Any attendees can budget for the reunion and plan for the vacation time so they can attend.

Decide on “Family” Definition

How many branches of the family tree are you including? When each generation includes a lot of kids, including direct-line descendants of the oldest person may be best. Other times, people invite cousins, second cousins, and other family members. When planning the first ever family reunion, start small. Once you set the guest list, track down contact information for everyone included.

Take a Survey

Ask everyone whether they’re interested. Get input on when and where they want to hold the event, and what activities they’d prefer. Take the initial input, pick the top three options and have people rank them. You won’t be able to please everyone, but this will help get the most people involved.

Decide the Length of the Family Reunion

Ask whether they want a one-day event or whether they want to spend a weekend or a week. Large families may need more than a day to reconnect. However, a week can be too long for a small family that gets together yearly. Reunions should be longer if people travel from far away.

Decide on a Location

Smaller families can hold their reunions at someone’s home. You can hold reunions at local parks and campgrounds for those on a budget. Families willing to spend more can meet at hotels, vacation rentals, community halls, or restaurants. For a more memorable event, choose a destination vacation, an all-inclusive cruise, or a resort. Plan plenty of activities within walking distance. Bring activities people can do when bored and during downtime. When booking a destination vacation or all-inclusive location, make sure the location has plenty of meeting places. Try to choose a central location so nobody has to travel a lot farther than everyone else.

Consider Having a Theme

A theme makes a family reunion more fun. It’s nice if the theme reflects the family heritage.  You can use the reunion to celebrate a family event, such as the birthday of the oldest family member. A theme makes food and decoration decisions easier.

Recruit Help

It isn’t easy for one person to do all the planning. Ask other family members if they’re interested in helping out. The bigger the family reunion, the more help you’ll need. Finances, lodging, food, communication, entertainment, mementos, attendance tracking, and welcoming people are just some essential tasks.

Decide on the Food

If most people are local, you could have a potluck event. If most people are traveling, consider finding a restaurant or a caterer to provide the food. Don’t forget to inquire about any dietary restrictions people have so everyone has suitable food to eat.

Stay Organized

Keep everything related to the family reunion in one place, preferably organized so it’s easy to find whatever you might need. An accordion file or file folder works well for this. Keep track of who’s coming, when they’re arriving, where they’re staying, and when they’re leaving.

Keep Everyone Informed

After the initial surveys, send invitations ASAP to let people know the final date, time, and location of the reunion. Also, keep people informed of the progress leading up to the event. Consider sending out regular emails or keeping a family reunion website updated.

Create a Budget

A family reunion can be expensive. Figure out from the start how much money people can afford to spend and plan accordingly using this budget. Don’t plan an expensive cruise if people will have trouble coming up with the money to even get to the location of the reunion. To cover the beginning expenses, some people have a ticket price that everyone pays when they decide they’re coming. This makes it easier to reserve a location if you’re holding the reunion somewhere other than a private home.

Have a Contingency Plan

People often hold large family reunions outdoors or include some outdoor activities, so have a contingency plan in place in case the weather doesn’t cooperate. This could be as simple as having a tent or having an alternative indoor location and indoor activities planned.

Include a Mix of Activities

Give people options for different activities so everyone can find something they enjoy. Consider different games, a slide show, a talent show, and any other activity that family members enjoy. Don’t expect everyone attending to take part in the same activity at the same time during the reunion. It may be helpful to create a list of local activities and restaurants people might want to visit during any downtime, such as early risers.

Start the Event Off Right

Assign someone to welcome everyone as they arrive and hand out any giveaways. Give people an agenda so they know what’s happening when. Some reunions have color-coded t-shirts so people can easily tell which branch of the family someone is from. Perhaps have a butcher paper family tree up on the wall for people to fill out. People can snap pics to take with them or you can type up nicer copies and email them to people after the event so everyone knows how everyone fits into the family and has their correct info. Another option is a map where people can mark the location where they live.

Incorporate Family History

Consider including items related to family history, such as favorite family dishes or old photos. If everyone submits a photo or recipe, you can create a compilation and give everyone a copy as a memento of the occasion.

Document the Event

Designate someone to take photos, put out disposable cameras for people to use, or even set up a designated hashtag for posting photos on social media. Put out a guest book to gather everyone’s info in one place.

Keep in Touch

After the reunion, keep in touch using a family website or newsletter. Consider starting the planning for the next reunion before everyone leaves, at least determining a year and a location. After the event, send out thank-you notes to anyone who volunteered to help.