To design family reunion that is both meaningful and memorable we need to first understand what those words mean.
Looking up the definition on the Internet is not quite as simple as pulling Webster down from shelf and manually turn actual paper pages! But the internet does provide a variety of options er…definitions to choose from.
These particular ones come from Oxford Languages because they had more than one word to define them and seemed more complete.
Meaningful = have any serious, important, or useful quality or purpose.
Memorable = worth remembering or easily remembered, especially because of being special or unusual.
Question: So how can we make meaning and memorable happen at a family reunion?
Answer: Pre Planning!
When you combine memorable and meaningful together you get something that is easily remembered and important or serious or useful.
Pre-plan for a memorable family reunion
Just having family together may be fun and might even be memorable for some, but by itself isn’t very memorable.
Likewise, having uncle Joe Plummer lose his pants while running a three-legged race may be memorable but certainly not very meaningful. And we don’t want those kinds of meaningful memories!
The trick is tying both meaningful and memorable together.
The activities at your reunion can have a lasting impact.
Go ahead and push a little here. Think about activities with a different mindset focused on bringing meaning to each and every activity. Don’t just have an activity to fill space or take up time. Instead, focus on how you can celebrate your family in the process.
Meaningful and Memorable Family Reunion Activities
When you involve others in planning or executing activities they tend to have ownership in them. And that ownership can translate to memorable. Also, these family members, through the time they spend in preparing, can’t help but draw closer to the family as a whole as they consider what activities to do and how they should work.
Here are some examples:
Involving youth in memorable family reunions
Do you play family games? Ask a college student studying recreation or any physical exercise type of major in school if they would plan 1-3 afternoon games. Explain that games should be applicable to large group settings while also being fun for kids as well as adults.
High schoolers that participate in their school performing arts or Drama clubs can take the lead and plan a family skit night. They can find various props and determine how to divide the group. Then layout the guidelines. This could be various skits portraying the story of thier anscestor, a very specific moment in thier ancestor hisotry, or even wide open like any a skit of your choice but must include an ancestor or based in say 1800’s.
Or it could even be completely impromptu like the show “Whose Line Is It Anyway”. Maybe they incorporate a relevant language, accent, theme, etc to include ancestral history.
If needed, the high schoolers with adult supervision could even build a stage area or stage podiums. They could research the answers to a family trivia game like Family Jeopardy.
High schoolers are often doing service projects and know of unique ways to serve. BONUS, if it’s a service project they like or recommended, they are much more likely to particpate. If they are a competent older teen they may even be able to lead this project or at minimum work closely with an adult.
To have meaningful family reunion activities, involve the whole family
Having a family talent show is always FUN! There is always some unmasking of sibling or cousin rivalry along with displays of new and developing talents. As a bonus, family members who practice together get family bonding time.
I still recall and watch the video recording of my college-aged cousin Clayton singing the song ‘Ophelia”. It was just him and his guitar. My hubby has used that video a number of times showing friends and clients how talented my cousin is. (Sidenote: Many viewers like my cousin’s version of the song significantly better than the original artist!)
Ancestor memorabilia can be meaningful and memorable
Another idea is to have stations of historical memorabilia by ancestor or ancestral branch (for those larger families). Ask different family branches to own a section. Have them to gather, set up, and staff their station at the designated time.
Designate a time when all stations should be manned so other family members can peruse the items and ask questions.
The staffer then shares stories about a particular item’s importance or how that item helped shape the ancestor’s future.
Displayed items can be literally anything. Personal effects, clothing that emigrated across the ocean, a specific weapon used in a battle, a time-worn pocket watch, photographs, journals, a special set of china, etc. all are examples that I’ve seen used. Anything that helps tell the story of that ancestor works.
Give ancestral memorabilia away to those who would like it
Sitting in my mom’s storage were a number of various and random items that belonged to my great grandparents. These were random items that didn’t really have a home but we didn’t want to just donate them. So we devised a raffle.
Family members could earn raffle tickets through various activities, participation, etc throughout the reunion. Then they used these raffle tickets to “bid” on the items they wanted. I personally didn’t win anything, but one of my daughters did. She won a hand sewn hanging canvas. It’s not all that pretty or cute, but it was created by my great grandmother, her great-great-grandmother.
She has treasured that canvas and it hung in her kitchen until she moved a year ago.
Meaningful and Memorable Family Reunion Activities related to Heritage
Cut a large giant tree cut out of paper and paste on the wall or use an actual big tree outside with lots of limbs. The activity: take a self-portrait (draw, polaroid, etc) and place it or hang it on the branch from which you stem.
This type of activity helps us know where we came from and how we fit in the picture of today. It also points out family members who couldn’t attend or passed away too soon.
Remembering those who passed on before us gives us strength to persevere our own struggles. We can also rejoice together and celebrate how other branches are growing.
To help this idea have more impact, I highly suggest adding some dates to your base branches. Better yet add a chart highlighting world or local events during a decade or two to provide color to ancestral struggles.
Share what you’ve learned to strengthen others
For example, my great grandparents were married in April 1917 and baby arrived a year later. Also at this time, the Great War was ending and a worldwide pandemic called the Spanish Flu or Influenza just beginning.
Through journals I’ve learned how my great grandparents managed through this pandemic. During this time women were typically homemakers and men worked.
When my great grandfather got home from work, he would first strip all his clothing and then bathe outside. ONLY after a good scrub down and changing into fresh non-contaminated clothing would he then enter the house.
Imagine having to shower outside in COLD water before even entering your home!
Certainly understanding how my great grandparents dealt with the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, helped me to more easily understand our 2020 pandemic. I am so grateful for not having to shower and change before entering my home…every time!
Share stories like this at activities like the tree to deepen ancestor appreciation.
Food is another way that we can include heritage for meaningful reunions
Engage some family members to make a particular item. Have them talk a couple of minutes about why this recipe is relevant to your heritage. They should also include any side notes of their experience with it or learning about it. Allow guests to taste and talk about it. Finally, have the recipe available for others to take home along with a little container of extras (if applicable).
If this designated family member includes their immediate family in the process of making or testing the recipe, then they are also sharing heritage with their children and together learning and growing.
Provide food as a sample
My great grandmother often made divinity. Divinity candy is frequently made with pecans and thus popular in the southern United States. It’s also somewhat humidity sensitive making it the perfect candy for the dry southwest!
All the cousins vividly recall Gama’s Divinity. To make our family reunion meaningful and memorable, we added her divinity candy to the welcome bags. We made the candy ahead of time, carefully set in small cube-shaped candy boxes, and placed inside the welcome bags. Of course, we included the above recipe card! The card serves as a reminder of her, the candies she loved, and stirs a memory in each of us.
My family on my mom’s side is largely comes from Denmark so we nearly instantly love all things Danish right off the bat. But this tradition could be super fun to have at a reunion.
Make and serve a traditional ancestral dish
There is a Christmas tradition in Denmark of celebrating Christmas Eve Eve. They call it Lille Julaften or Little Christmas Eve. This Ris a La Mande or Danish Rice Pudding recipe is Danish dish of rice pudding with lots of chopped almonds. Also added is ONE WHOLE ALMOND. Whoever gets the almond in their dish wins the wrapped surprise.
What a fun way to involve all the family in a heritage food that also has a fun almond surprise!
Meaningful and memorable family reunions starts with us, the planners. Involving family heritage in family reunions helps us better understand and appreciate our ancestors.
Understanding their struggles enables us to understand our own struggles and better armed to deal with them. Plus learning about their lives is fun and we can celebrate them throughout our own lives through special recipes and meals.
Share with us in the comments some of your favorite ways to make family reunions meaningful and memorable!