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It's been ages since you've seen your extended family. In fact, you're pretty sure your 11-year-old son was wearing diapers the last time you had a real reunion. It's clearly time to unite your relatives, so use these tips to plan an event that will make everyone want to get together more often.
Brainstorm about when and where to hold your reunion event, and make sure to start at least three to four months ahead of time. You might pick a date that's significant in your family's history (the day great-great-grandpa landed at Ellis Island?) or choose a set weekend to get together every year (that way everyone will know in advance next time). Dole out planning duties to make sure you don't burn out before the big day -- and to be sure that all sides of the family will be happy with your event. Sites like reunionplanner.com are also a good source for tools and ideas.
First, think about your group size and resources -- is this a huge gathering with lots of extended family members coming from all over the country? A hotel banquet space or an amusement park might prove a good option. Or is it a smaller group of relatives who mostly live near you? Then perhaps your home or a local park or restaurant is the way to go. If everyone has to travel and you can swing it, how about a weekend cruise? Or to save money, go camping, rent cabins, or find some affordable condos at the beach. Just be sure to keep your whole family's tastes in mind and consider older relatives' comfort. Or to keep it really simple, rotate hosting duties among family members from year to year.
One of the easiest ways to let everyone know about your reunion is to send an e-mail or Evite. If you'd prefer to go with paper invites, design them on your computer and print them at home to save cash. Another option (especially for bigger events) is to register your gathering on familyreunion.com or create your own Web site with directions, hotels, activities, and more. (If you're tech-challenged, enlist a Web-savvy family member to set it up.)
Or if you'd rather call, try setting up a phone chain: You just call one member of each family and he or she brings everyone else up to speed.
How you approach money depends on the event, but for any gathering food will be a big expense. One easy way to cut down on costs -- and enjoy some of Grandma's cookies -- is to make your reunion potluck. Ask everyone to bring one type of dish, plus their own drinks. If you're renting a space or having the event catered, decide how people can contribute before hand. It won't come as a surprise when you include an amount for each family and a deadline in your invite if you get every one's input while planning.
Be straightforward (but tactful!) about the costs to avoid awkward situations and to make sure you don't get stuck footing the whole bill. If you're going to make favors (like cute shirts from zazzle.com or a family cookbook from blurb.com), don't forget to add in those costs. For destination reunions, each family can pay expenses individually and just chip in for one big group meal or activity.
After all that planning, it's finally time to have fun! First do a few family-centric icebreakers: Roll out some kraft or butcher paper and sketch a giant tree, then turn everyone loose with markers to fill out the family branches. Or try a homemade trivia game with questions about your relatives and family history.
Get better acquainted by playing games like "never have I ever" or "two truths and a lie." Old family videos and photos are always a blast from the past -- even if they can be a little embarrassing -- so set up a showing. For longer gatherings, it's a good idea to have a few board games, coloring books, and some playing cards handy.
"We booked separate cabins at a nearby resort, and each night we took turns cooking dinner. It was such a pleasure to spend time with the family, yet not have to cook every night."
-- Shirley Allen, Woodland Hills, California
"We have a lot of small children in our family, so we all decided to meet at Walt Disney World for our reunion. It turns out the adults had as much fun as the kids."
-- Della Sanchez, Houston, Texas
"I kept tons of lists and had many conference calls with my sisters so we could work out the details, like how we'd get 65 people under one roof and what we should cook."
-- Annette Chebatoris, Greenville, South Carolina
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Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, June 2009.