By Karen Hendricks
Every year, the last Sunday of June, we head to the mountains surrounding Penn State’s Happy Valley area for my husband’s annual family reunion. It’s a tradition that has been upheld for as long as I’ve known my husband—I attended my first reunion before we were married, probably 25 years ago! Now our kids have grown up with this tradition—a great way to reconnect with family members and keep family ties intact.
My mother-in-law, one of 13 children, absolutely lives for family reunion day. It’s consistently one of the highlights of our summer as well. My husband is one of 40+ cousins, and now our children are some of the “next generation” of cousins. What a great tradition!
It seems like once a reunion has been established and planned for so many years, it is like a well-oiled machine that keeps on rolling. Here are some tips from our reunions that might inspire you to create or redesign your family gatherings:
- Try to keep a consistent date every year
- Also keep the location consistent from year to year. Our reunion was held at a family farm for many years, but now we rent a fire hall adjacent to a park with pavilions, playgrounds, ball fields, etc.
- Share in the planning process by asking various families to oversee different aspects of the reunion.
- For example, one family can send out postcard or email reminders; maintain email or physical addresses for family members.
- Designate someone to organize activities/games for children. Our reunion traditionally ends with a piñata full of candy for the kids. We have some creative relatives who design and create a piñata from a cardboard box every year!
- Another family organizes a traditional activity for “kids” of all ages: guessing jars filled with candy. The person who makes the closest guess to the amount of candy, without going over, wins the jar. Last year, we snagged about 6 jars between the 5 of us, and despite the rumors, we did not have any “inside information!”
- Ask every family to bring a covered dish. Somehow it all works out and there’s always plenty of fried chicken, a variety of salads and side dishes, and plenty of desserts including the traditional Pennsylvania whoopie pies.
- Ask every family to bring their own place settings.
- Have one family prepare and bring large coolers of water, iced tea, etc.
- Pass a hat every year to collect donations from each family, to pay for the next year’s expenses—rental of the venue, kid’s activities, candy, drinks, etc.
- Although it’s good to plan activities, it’s also good to allow free time where you can talk and catch up with relatives. Isn’t that the main purpose of a “reunion?” :-)
Please add your tips and suggestions in the “Comments” section below… we look forward to sharing your ideas and ultimately, strengthening family bonds!