I have incredibly fond memories of multigenerational family reunions growing up, often meeting cousins I didn’t know for the first time, or seeing aunts and uncles I barely knew. They’d share great stories of their childhoods, and I would learn so many things about my family during these retreats. There was no generation gap, just good food, great conversation, and always lots of laughs.
At one reunion my Aunt Jane got word that Val Dufour, her favorite actor from her favorite soap opera, was staying just doors away. She enlisted several of the little cousins into her posse of stalkers, and we gleefully marched over to Val’s place. He opened the door with what could only be described as shock and awe. A larger than life personality, Aunt Jane was a cross between Mame and Mrs. Doubtfire and her tag line was “Ring A Ding A Do.” Val graciously invited us all in rendering Auntie speechless and leaving us all with a memory that has lasted a lifetime.
With proper planning family gatherings of any kind can go off without a hitch. Here are my tried and true tips for planning a multigenerational, destination family reunion.
Who’s in charge
Most planning requires a committee to execute all the moving parts, but delegate one person to oversee the committee. You’ll also need someone who is willing (and able) to take on the finances, set up and adhere to a budget, etc. Tap into some of your kin’s expertise. If someone is great at tech, maybe they can create an app for the reunion or suggest their favorite apps (like Expedia) for booking flights. Create an e-newsletter to keep everyone abreast of updates. You’ll want to have members from several different branches of your family tree on the committee to give you a better overall representation of the family make-up.
When to start
Like planning a wedding, you will want to initiate the planning process one year in advance to give you enough time to cover all of your bases from securing venues to sending invites.
Getting the word out
How will the invites go out? Informal e-mails? Postcards? Texts? Phone calls? Aunt Bessie the family gossip? No matter what method of delivery you choose, prepare to follow up. There is nothing worse than a family member feeling shunned because the invite got lost in the mail or worse yet tossed in the spam folder. Create a special family reunion Facebook page that has up to the minute reunion information and is a way for family members to communicate, share photos and travel plans leading up to the big event. The Facebook page is also a great place to share photos and videos throughout the reunion.
Create a survey
The best way to avoid huffs and hissy fits is to create a survey and get feedback from everyone. While you can’t please everyone all of the time, you will have done your best to be all inclusive of the majorities likes and dislikes. Ask questions like:
1. What time of year, time frame is best for you to attend our family reunion?
2. How far are you willing to travel to attend the reunion?
3. How many in your family will attend? Ages?
4. Would you like to volunteer to be part of the planning committee/process?
5. Do you have any ideas and suggestions of where you would like the reunion held?
6. What activities would you like?
Location, location, location
Where will the reunion be? After getting feedback from everyone, filter it down to a consensus. While you had your heart set on Maui, grannie’s bunions will make it impossible for her to make the journey and cousin Alice has brand new twins keeping her closer to home. This is the time to narrow down destinations and venues. Staycations if planned correctly can be a wonderful vacation so don’t rule it out. You may not make it to Maui, but you can plan a luau at the reunion venue.
The McKenna’s Mingle in Montana? The Griffin’s Gather in Green Bay? Create something guests can take away that commemorate the occasion like T-shirts with a family catch phrase, monogrammed deck of cards, drawstring backpack, or flying discs.
Program and event agenda
The big day/weekend has arrived, and family is trickling in. Now, what? The committee should have a printed agenda, a list of times, locations, and events. The program is an excellent way to solve the age-old problem: “Why didn’t I know that dinner was at 6 p.m. in the Wine Cellar?” There should be a variety of activities that can be enjoyed by everyone. While Uncle Harry’s bum knee may keep him from playing flag football, he should be able to enjoy it from the sidelines. Create an all-inclusive atmosphere making each family member feel valued and loved. Karaoke, board games, and fireside s’mores will unite all ages.
What tips do you have for planning a family reunion?