Tips for Making the Most of Your Family Reunion

Hulstrand Family Together 1990

It’s summertime again! Time for picnics, barbeques, trips to the beach—and family reunions!

Here are a few tips for ways to make your family reunion, if you’re having one, more special—and more lasting.

1)   Plan ahead of time to tell stories, and then do it! Send an e-mail to everyone in the family who’s coming to the reunion (and everyone who can’t make it as well). Ask them to share memories, and give them a few cues to get things rolling: memories about grandma and grandpa, the funniest thing that ever happened at a family reunion, childhood memories of family holiday celebrations, the time Uncle Edward fell in the pond, etc. Then when you’re all together, gather around for a storytelling time where people read their stories aloud, or just tell them.

2)   Capture these stories in video, and/or voice recordings.  Voice recordings are often better than video because they are less distracting, less likely to make storytellers self-conscious, and less likely to interrupt the natural flow of conversation. You can buy a digital recorder that is incredibly powerful, but only the size of a cigarette lighter in your local electronics supply store at surprisingly affordable prices. Then just turn it on and let the stories become part of your family history. (Of course you should let everyone know that’s what you’re doing and ask permission first, as a matter of courtesy.)

3)   Make a book of  memories to share. A few years ago one of my cousins and I organized a “Hulstrand Review” in preparation for our family reunion. We invited submissions from all members of the family. When it was gathered together, we had drawings and stories written by the very young (some of these were items created in response to school assignments about the importance of family, etc.); memories of the family elders about their growing-up years; even some of Grandma’s favorite cookie recipes, written in her hand. We photocopied the collection, and gave it out to everyone when we got together. Naturally, it was a big hit! We promised to make another one the following year, and that has not yet happened yet. But it will, one day: in the meantime we have a great moment in our family’s history captured that we will all always treasure—and some invaluable family stories recorded by people who are no longer with us.

4)   Don’t forget the obligatory group shot. Candid photos of individuals and small groups interacting are great. But don’t forget to get the group shots too, of everyone all together. You know the one: the one everyone groans about!  One day you’ll all be glad you have it. (In some families, having one “serious” and one “goofy” shot makes it more fun, and captures more than one side of everyone’s personality.)

5)   Remember that family reunions are not always called family reunions. Sometimes they are called weddings, or bar mitzvahs, or birthday parties. Anytime the extended family gets together, it’s a family reunion of sorts, and it’s cause for celebration.

6)   Don’t forget to savor the day. Family reunions can be occasions where family tensions come out as well as love of family. If someone starts pushing your buttons, try to keep things in perspective. Life is a gift, and we never know how long it will last, or when we’ll be together again. So count your blessings today, hug your family (no matter how mad some of them make you), and be happy!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor,  writing coach travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

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