By Megan Eileen McDonough
For families spread out across the country, who aren't able to get together under one roof very often, reunions are well worth the effort they take to organize. It may seem like a daunting task at the offset, but the memories you'll create are invaluable. And before you know it, you’ll be hard at work planning a follow-up reunion! Here are some tips for getting started and ideas for themes to make your next reunion unforgettable.
Make the Guest List
The easiest way to get started is by creating a guest list. From an intimate gathering of ten to a lavish party for hundreds of extended family members, it's up to you to decide the ideal size for your family's reunion. Once you figure out a) what side of the family you’ll be hosting, b) how many people will be invited and c) whether the reunion will be adults-only or kid-friendly, planning will become easier to manage.
Collecting email addresses, telephone numbers and addresses from family members may feel tedious, but it's necessary to stay connected during the planning process. If most of your relatives are active on Facebook, set up a private group where you can brainstorm ideas and ask questions. Email chains also work well, but make sure to start a new thread anytime there’s a topic change to avoid getting lost in the shuffle.
Regardless of how big your party is, form a reunion committee or appoint team captains, assigning tasks accordingly. Responsibilities range from booking dinner reservations to buying supplies for the rental home. The three most important factors when planning any reunion are location, theme and budget. The budget often determines when and where you celebrate your reunion, but the theme is where you have flexibilty to be creative.
5 Fun Family Reunion Themes
1) Beach Getaway
A relaxing beach getaway is one of the more popular reunion themes, especially when hosting a large group. Huntington Beach in California, Siesta Key in Florida and Ocean City, Maryland are a few classic family reunion friendly locations, where you can find a rental with enough space for everyone.
Beach getaways are often slated for the busy summer months so make sure to book your flights and accommodations well in advance. Saving these details for the last minute will likely result in expensive airfare and hotel rates. Those on a budget should think about traveling off-season, when it’s less crowded with tourists and considerably more affordable.
2) Winter Wonderland
A winter getaway can be a refreshing change from the typical summer BBQ type reunion. Colorado is a popular ski destination, known for places like Aspen and Crested Butte. But there are plenty of other locations offering a similar experience, like Whitefish, Montana or Bend, Oregon. Many families opt for a home rental near or attached to the ski lodge. Look for extra amenities you won’t find at a hotel, like a kitchen for cooking meals, fireplace or an outside courtyard.
Unless every member of your family is an advanced skier, your group will likely split up among the slopes. Encourage the beginners to take an introductory class to develop basic skills. It will give them the confidence they need to graduate from the green level to the blue while keeping everyone safe. If your family is spread out among the different slopes, plan to meet for lunch at one of the cafes or restaurants at the lodge.
3) Revisiting your Roots
Sometimes families care less about the destination and more about the activities. Many families travel to the homeland of their ancestors. It’s an opportunity to bond with branches of the family you may have never met, and offers an immersive cultural experience.
Come up with memorable ways to incorporate your family history into the theme of the reunion. Old photo albums and passed-down memorabilia help you remember beloved family members who have passed away. Freeze a moment in time by organizing a reunion photo album, and make it an annual tradition to look back on reunions past.
4) Country Escape
If you’re going for the “less is more” approach, the countryside might just be the best backdrop for your family reunion. Country escapes encourage family bonding and a deeper appreciation for nature. Try renting a log cabin in the woods, and take advantage of the outdoor space by setting up scavenger hunts or embarking on a group hike to the nearest lookout point.
A few days in the country is all you need to reconnect with nature. That being said, not everyone is used to the “simple life” so try to plan a few activities to keep family members in good spirits. Depending on where you’re staying, swim in the local river or take a leisurely stroll to the nearest town to grab and ice cream cone.
5) Show your Pride
Whether showing off your national pride or just being a cheerleader for your family, there are countless ways to honor your heritage. Some families opt for cities with a lot of history like Charleston or Philadelphia, while others may prefer staying at a family farm for a break from technology. Try putting together a family cookbook where each member contributes a recipe, and cook some of these for dinner throughout the week.
Order a T-Shirt that represents your family through colors, wording and style, like including the flag of your ancestors' country of origin. Coming up with nicknames and slogans is another way to literally wear your pride on your sleeve. For craftier families, just buy a pack of white T-Shirts and turn decorating them into a group activity.