A Family's Journey: Tips for the Best Family Reunion
"Itinerary" is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as "the route of a journey or tour or the proposed outline of one." But how can anyone apply this literally to family reunions? Families live everywhere, some close to one another, some far apart. Families have many starting points for their journeys, and multiple routes to take to their reunions, both physical and psychological. How do family members reunite; how do they make that journey to reunion?
A Home-based Reunion
If this is your first time planning a family reunion, start small, begin planning a year ahead and don't be afraid to ask for advice from other family members. First-time planners probably want to keep the attendance within manageable limits and may seriously consider a home-based reunion, if possible. It doesn't have to be the planner's home; ideally, the home would be geographically close to the center of the homes of other family members, and it should be large enough to entertain two- to three-dozen people within the house, on the patio and/or on the lawn. It would also be good if there were a small park or playground nearby where kids can vent pent-up energy. Wait until you've heard from the invitees before making final arrangements for time and place, since someone might have a great suggestion you hadn't thought of yourself.
One of your first tasks is to determine the parameters of the event; will the circle extend to first cousins, second cousins or beyond? Whatever the limitation you pick, stick to it. If, for example, you're staying within a circle of second cousins, ask them all, leave none out, but don't extend invitations outside that restriction. This is fair, and no one can call you out for playing favorites.
You needn't do the planning all on your own. In fact, it would be great to have someone else join you as a teammate. Remember, though, that too many cooks spoil the broth, and a dependable party must take primary responsibility.
Send out notices about a year ahead of time. Include a survey requesting the invitees' recommendations for place, time, possible activities and any other suggestions they might have. Bear in mind that if school-age children are coming, the reunion should probably take place in the summer (summer camp dates have to be taken into account, also). The more involved people feel, the likelier they are to show up and enjoy the event. If you don't have addresses for some of the folks on your list, ask other relatives who might know.
After the survey/invitation has been sent, email updates every month or so to let everyone in on what's going on and pump up excitement about the reunion. You could even have a special Facebook page dedicated to your reunion.
Make some suggestions yourself, and see how they're received. Maybe people could bring along copies of family pictures and then help the children construct their own family albums. Or they could bring along a favorite story. There might be some treasured family recipes; folks could bring recipe cards or make the dishes themselves or both. Just make sure that any special dietary needs are taken into account so at least a few dishes can be enjoyed by everyone present.
Make travel arrangements ahead of time. Some might need help with transportation, especially the elderly who are, after all, the retainers of the family legacy.
Lack of funds shouldn't be a reason for anyone to feel left out. If someone on the list is going through hard times, get the family together to pool their money for an inexpensive affair, with everyone chipping in what they can. If more money is needed, hold a silent auction of articles donated by family members. Or make a yard sale a part of the reunion itself.
And what about the actual itinerary? Families will be traveling to a place maybe near, maybe far, some by plane, some by rail, some by car. Everyone should have the host's number in case of mishaps along the way, even those drivers with GPS.
It's a Party!
Every party needs people, music and food, at the very least. For this reunion you've already rounded up the people; have a playlist ready of tunes from every generation present. For food, you could take the route mentioned above and bring a potluck meal consisting of family favorites; some dishes could be prepared on-site as well. If enough people bring copies of family photos, kids can put together family albums, using either store-bought albums or home-made albums using construction paper and a 3-hole punch, then tied up with ribbon. This is also a good opportunity to use those photos to introduce the kids to their more distant relations and ancestors.
You can try reunion twists on party games. Play Name-that-Relative by sticking different family members' names on the backs of party-goers. They then have to guess whose name they're "stuck" with by asking leading questions. Family members can put on their own talent show, with all ages welcome to show off their specialties. An old-fashioned game of charades could pit teams of different generations to guess past and current movies, books and songs. Create a big family tree using a roll of paper or poster board, so that everyone can find their place in the branches. And don't forget to use some of the suggestions that were made while you were still getting the arrangements together.
A Far-flung Reunion
Suppose that your family reunion at a family member's home isn't feasible for one reason or another. Maybe a large percentage of the responses to your notice state a preference for a vacation destination. This could take the form of a cruise, a stay at a resort or even a dude ranch. In these cases there are already activities and meals planned so that everyone is free to relax and simply enjoy themselves. Of course, first there has to be a consensus reached on the location and cost limits. Reservations should be made far ahead of time. A year ahead is not too early, which means the planning would have to start earlier, too.
National Park Service to the Rescue!
If you want a vacation-style reunion but don't have the deep pockets necessary for a cruise or pricey resorts, consider checking out the resources offered by the National Park Service. There are lodging facilities available at many of the parks (state parks too). The NPS website provides a treasure-house of information about cabins, cottages, hotels and (if your family really likes to rough it) grounds for tenting. Check individual state park websites for information regarding available facilities.
There are also commercial campsites throughout the country with varying levels of convenience, amenities and comfort.
Keep Calm and Reunion On
Okay, so your mom spoils your kids, and your grandpa ignores them. You've had a running feud with your sister for years. Your mother and aunt are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. You can take all the family dynamics in stride as long as you are aware of how they function and do your part to calm the waters when situations begin to ignite.
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Judith loves cats, books, and road trips with her husband. She was born in rural Indiana, studied English Literature at the University of Chicago, and has lived in Chicago, Boston, Deerfield, MA and now Louisville, KY. She owned a bookstore for several years and is a past-president of the Mass. & RI Antiquarian Booksellers. She edits novels and stories, and makes pictures which have been shown in galleries and juried shows. She loves to write, and her motto is "stay curious."