Reunions: Are They Worth All The Work?
An Interview with Edith Wagner, By Meg Cox
Q: Tell us how family reunions have changed over the years and what's "in" now.
A: When we started, people expected reunions to be picnics in backyards or parks. While that is still true for many reunions, many more involve travel and last longer than an afternoon. For many families, reunions are the only time parents and children, brothers, sisters and cousins hve relaxed time to spend together and they want a vacation feel to it. Many reunions include golfing. Many also include banquets and workshops. Popular programs include family health history, investing and genealogy. You see reunions everywhere now: vacation homes/condos, cruises, hotels, resorts and ranches.
Q: I bet that every once in a while you hear about a reunion and think, "Wow. I wish I belonged to that family." Tell us about some that strike you that way.
A: I go to one regularly that even the littlest kids look forward to because so much thought is given to having activities that interest everyone. About 400 to 600 people show up on a Sunday, but a core group of about 75 spends a week setting up and tearing down. The work crew comes from all over the country and they have events every evening for six days. A couple years ago, they started teaching the elementary school-age kids to make bread, which evolved into pizza dough and has become a Saturday lunch tradition, with the addition of a long list of ingredients the kids can choose to use. Another family, the Awayas, spends a lot of time doing crafts and activities. At one reunion, they made decorations and Japanese lanterns for a parade to celebrate a special anniversary. They tie dye their own t-shirts and the grandparents teach sushi making.
Q: Reunions can be so much work and people are already so busy. What's your advice for keeping it manageable?
A: First, no one should organize a reunion alone. Involvement across households and age groups increases ownership and attendance. Also, there are no rules about reunions being big: it's better to let a reunion evolve organically from a one-day picnic to something more elaborate. If staying connected is the goal, make that part of everything you do. A potluck picnic in which everyone brings their best dishes can be a highlight. Many families go camping to keep it simple and save money, picking campgrounds with cabins and hotels nearby for whose who don't camp.
Q: I'm going to ask about my own situation because I don't think it's unique. Both my parents are dead and my siblings are scattered. Both of my parents' families stopped having reunions years ago: my remaining aunts are frail and I barely know my cousins. How does one resurrect a reunion tradition years after it's defunct, or start one from scratch?
A: This is a project for a gung-ho family genealogist/historian or for someone nostalgic to get everyone together before the frail aunts' funerals. While 100% attendance is a goal, that's unlikely unless the group is very small so don't start out thinking the reunion can't happen unless everyone can come. It's probably not wise to merely imitate the past, but do take your best memories and incorporate them into something that is up-to-the-minute and will make people want to come. Pick a special location, perhaps near a family homestead, or build the reunion around a special event like a milestone birthday or anniversary in the family. Do it before you have to attend one more funeral where everyone agrees you must be meeting under better circumstances!
Q: It's already June so it would be hard to pull off a big reunion this summer. Should people plan a mini-reunion or work toward something big next summer?
A: A mini-reunion to plant seeds and develop enthusiasm is a terrific idea. Starting now for next summer is also smart: ask people you meet who are attending reunions lots of questions about what worked. Subscribe to Reunions magazine at www.reunionsmag.com and while you're there, listen to podcasts (soon to be streaming video) and join the forum. Poll a small number of family members for their thoughts and ideas, decide on a date (not easy and the topic of one of our podcasts) and a place, and you're well on the way.
Reprinted with permission from the monthly e-mail newsletter on family traditions by journalist Meg Cox. A former reporter with the Wall Street Journal, Meg is the author of The Book of New Family Traditions, lauded by top experts such as Mary Pipher and Michael Gurian. Subscribe free to the newsletter by sending a blank message to Subscribers-Join@megcox.com. Read a sample issue and learn about her next book at www.megcox.com.
Other Resources for Get Togethers
If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.
- George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)
The essential tool for all reunion planners. A check list from beginning to end.
Perfect gift to recruit helpers, committee members and
even your successor to plan the next reunion.
Choosing the Time of Year and Season
_ summer when kids are on vacation
_ autumn when kids are in school
_ winter to ski or head south to seek the sun
_ spring to beat the winter doldrums
_ off-season to take advantage of lower prices
_ same date (date, weekend or month) each reunion
_ long holiday weekend: Memorial Day, Labor Day
More on Page 8 of Reunions Workbook.
Activities for All Ages
_ feature home grown talent (comedian, karaoke, soloist)
_ dance teacher (young teach the old and vice-versa)
_ disc jockey
_ mystery night (stage a reunion mystery)
_ magic show (use homegrown, hiretalent or ask the kids to do magic)
_ speakers (motivational, genealogy, family history)
_ movies (show old films, rent family favorites, show slide shows from past reunions)
_ predict the future (ask a psychic, tarot card or palm reader to entertain)
More on pages 29-30 and 32-33 of Reunions Workbook.
Potluck Picnic: You’ll Need
_ someone in charge
_ a menu - to ensure that all food groups are included
_ members who volunteer or are assigned to bring food, beverages
_ volunteers for 1. set up 2. service and 3. clean up
_ ways to keep food and beverages hot or cold
_ grills, if not provided
_ ice, water
_ paper goods: plates, napkins, cups, plastic flatware and glasses
_ rentals: tables, chairs, tent, porta toilets
_ in case of inclement weather, a shelter or alternative site
More on pages 34-35 of Reunions Workbook.
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