My husband’s extended family meets every year in June for a Family Reunion on my mother-in-law’s beautiful property in Litchfield County, CT. It’s been a week since the most recent one, and we are all still basking in the glow of it. Even though we have one every year, we never know who will make it, if the weather is going to cooperate, or which families will stay over in tents. These unknowns keep it fresh and unpredictable, and therefore each year we look forward to what some might see as a great big hassle, but we have come to view as heaven. I’ve learned so much from my husband’s side of the family about their simple, yet well thought out approaches to bringing a lot of people together. They have spent years fine-tuning this event, so I am hopeful that you will find this information useful if you‘re considering throwing one yourself.
The first step is to pick a date that will work for the majority. We have found that late June, just after public school ends, tends to be the best time to achieve the greatest turnout. Email blasts have been an amazing method for the quick dissemination of information, starting with a “Save the Date” message in the late winter.
Once the date is set, my mother-in-law crafts a reminder email to give the details of our gathering. This goes out twice: once in the spring, and then again just before we meet. It’s been mostly the same format for years, but occasionally an improvement is made, so this is very helpful. It includes the basic info such as:
“People are welcome to come to the property as early as 10am with their own picnic lunch, chairs, blankets, etc. We provide soft drinks and beer, and at 4:00 we will have finished the roasting of the pig. Please bring a dish to share for that evening’s meal. Anyone wishing to camp out may do so. There will be a breakfast served on Sunday morning for those who stay.” The camping component is new, and usually includes about 4 families, allowing for some extended shared moments making s’mores around the fire. That’s it! It’s pretty simple and straightforward stuff. To accommodate the sometimes 70-100 people, a nice port-a-potty is rented and placed in the orchard. That cost, as well as the pig, the beer, and maybe some new shuttlecocks and water balloons, is pretty minimal considering the large number of people who attend.
The two families who live on the property have the important tasks of beautification and the main course, which includes lots of gardening and a mowing before the event, getting the float on the pond, and starting the roasting of the pig. They do an incredible job, and the place always looks breathtaking and inviting, not to mention, smells yummy upon one’s arrival. My task in recent years is to make the soft drinks on that day: lemonade, iced tea, Tang, etc. My husband’s is to get the badminton net up, the slip-and-slide out, spruce up the horseshoe pits, and rake the pond beach. After that, we wait for people to start coming.
There is a ‘cheat sheet’ on the table outside next to the blank name tags that lists those families who are planning to attend that year. My mother-in-law so wonderfully supplies the names and ages of all the children, so we can have a prayer of figuring our who’s who in the sea of 40 kids who keep growing and changing every year to spite us. Of course, the nametags help a great deal, too. Sometimes I think we should all wear them every day (!), but that’s just me.
Because we are a ‘green group’, we use recyclable cups that people put their name on with a Sharpie so they can reuse them all day, and we serve the meal buffet-style with real plates and silverware. Not everyone can do this, but my sister-in-law has amassed a large amount of these items over the years from various sources, and it makes such a difference in the amount of garbage we create, or, rather, don’t.
For some reason, the weather has always been kind to us (some say it’s the ancestors smiling down), and the children have such fun cooling off in the pond or chasing each other with water balloons. The adults play games as well, or have a swim, but a lot of emphasis is placed on catching up on each other’s lives. The crowning moment of the afternoon is a traditional, but humorous song that one family, with five grown sons, leads us in every year. It’s priceless to see all the young ones join in as they come to know the words. All in all, it really is heavenly .
So there you have it – the easy recipe for creating great family connections and memories. Now, go ahead, pick a date and make it happen.
Please share any ideas you’ve enjoyed when your family gets together. We are always interested in tweaking and improving the experience.