If I tell you right now that we are talking about family reunion activities today, I might scare you off. I get it. Families are complex, and not everyone loves their own.
So let me be clear before I go any further into this – you are not required to attend a family reunion if you do not have a good relationship with your family.
If you were looking for a sign or permission to say no, here it is. Also, no is a complete sentence. Now, back to family reunions. It’s a bittersweet topic for me, so buckle up: I’m about to tell long stories.
But I promise I’ll also share some fun family reunion activities for you when I’m done. Like a reward. Or a gift.
For the past 25 years of my life, I’ve gone to a family reunion every other summer. I’m a Floridian. My family lives in Texas and California.
My grandmother moved from Florida – she was my very best friend, my favorite person, and my idol – when I was 18. She went to Texas, and she lived in the most awful place ever. I won’t say the name, but I will tell you getting there was expensive, inconvenient, and time-consuming…but I’d do anything for her.
I’m talking no direct flights, a two-hour drive from the airport, and the closest hotel to her farm is a motel that still doesn’t have rates higher than $49 per night.
Which obviously means we chose a hotel over an hour away – and it still wasn’t a hotel. I don’t think there are hotels within 300 miles of her home. All motels. Not my vibe. But we had a family reunion there every other summer.
Why Do We Go to Family Reunions?
To visit our families, obviously. Every family is different. My dad’s family held one every other year for the past 25 years before my grandmother was getting older.
She died quietly in her sleep in 2021 just weeks before her 102nd birthday. Despite the fact that she had more energy and was more active than any of us who were a quarter of her age, our family knew we needed to go to Texas to visit her every other summer just in case.
Our family reunions were solely to spend time with my grandmother – and our aunts, uncles, cousins, and my dad with his siblings. It was always a good time even if the location was not my favorite (bugs, nature, and nothing but flat, brown and beige land as far as the eye can see? No, thank you.)
Our family reunions were held at the farm on which my grandmother’s house was located. She lived next door to my dad’s sister and her husband, who comes from a long line of farmers with a lot of land.
We’d spend a few days visiting, but the Saturday of the reunion was always the actual reunion day. We were all required to hang out in the barn, chat, and visit. It was definitely not exciting, but it was always good to visit.
Every family dynamic is special. This is why every family reunion is special. It was always easy to show up to one. The easy part is booking flights and travel.
The difficult part is planning menus, activities, and fun for the entire family. Now, no one ever planned anything other than sitting in the barn and talking, so I’m not the expert on family reunion activities. But I am an expert at googling stuff.
1. Book Accommodations in the Same Place
Allow me to suggest one of two things – either book your entire family in the same hotel for proximity, or book a large vacation rental somewhere neutral. A big house for a big family means you all get to stay together for a few days, and those memories are priceless.
2. Choose Theme Nights for Meals
Whether you are staying together or everyone is at a hotel nearby, you still need to plan meals. Let everyone choose a theme night for each night – taco night, for instance. Or perhaps Italian night. Pizza night is also easy for a crowd. Get together and decide, and then decide who is cooking each meal. Doing this together is a great bonding activity for families.
3. Dine Out
It’s a reunion activity you cannot pass up. No one should have to sit around cooking all the time, so book at least one meal for the entire family out.
You get to sit around a table – or several – and visit without worrying about cooking, cleaning, or serving. This is also my secret ingredient – if you are out, you can pick where you sit and who you sit by, and people are less likely to get up and wander over to talk to you.
My therapist calls it avoidance. I call it, “We all have an aunt we can only handle in small doses,” and I’m not wrong.
4. Plan A Fun Outing
No matter where you are, plan an activity that gets everyone out of the house for a few hours. Perhaps a golf outing for the athletes or a spa day for those in need of relaxing? Anything goes.
5. Plan a Day or Evening In All Together
The most important aspect of any family reunion is hosting a time when everyone is together. It’s fine to spend your time breaking off into smaller groups to do things in the area. The teens won’t want to hang out with you, after all. The siblings might want to visit, too.
However, it’s imperative that there is at least one day or evening when everyone does the same thing at the same time, together. Being together is the point…but also just one mandatory everyone is together day. Otherwise, people won’t show up. It’s me. I’m people.
6. Engage in a Family Competition
Everyone loves a little competition, so make the most of it. Get every immediate family together, and figure out what works based on location, amenities, etc.
A few suggestions might include a baking competition. Every family makes their favorite dessert, and everyone has to vote on who makes the best one. Games are another great competition. A family football game is always a win. You can pick anything, but remember that a healthy competition is a great way to bond…and to remind your family you are the superior member.
The key here is to share all the photos of all the family. Everyone loves an activity like this. If everyone brings their family’s baby photos, you can see who resembles whom, who was the cutest or the squishiest. Turn it into a competition to see who had the worst possible childhood photo. Who had the biggest hair or the worst haircut? It can be a lot of fun, and also a great way to bond.
8. Host a Family Game Night
Game nights are the best nights – honestly. Choose some games. Cards. Pictionary. Yahtzee. Whatever you choose, get everyone together and be ready to laugh. In our family, the game Taboo is the most fun – and I dominate when paired with my favorite aunt. We are unbeatable.
9. Have a Camp Out For the Kids
When you’re hosting a family reunion, there are bound to be at least a few kids. By the time they’ve spent a few hours together, the cousins are best friends. Host a campout or sleepover for all of them. They’ll stay up late giggling and making memories, and that’s all you want at the end of the day.
10. Plan A Movie Night
Go to one. Rent one. Whatever. The point here is to get everyone to relax in their comfiest clothes with popcorn and treats, and watch a movie. Something funny – but also age appropriate for the little ones – is always a winning choice.
11. Go On a Scavenger Hunt
The good news about this one is that you can choose to locate whatever you want. You can create one and plan it. You can print one off the internet. Whatever you choose is something amazing. Just plan it and they will come.
12. Spend Quality Time With Your Elders
Grandparents need quality time with their families. Make sure everyone gets a chance to spend some quality time with the elders in the family, especially in small group settings. Everyone wants a chance to be heard and to make quality memories.
13. Visit Places Special to Your Family
Is your reunion in a city or town important to your family? Did you grow up here? Make a plan to visit special places as a family. The place your grandparents got married, for instance. How about the house you grew up in? Book a meal at your favorite childhood restaurant, or get ice cream at your favorite childhood ice cream shop. Let the younger generation spend a day in your shoes reliving your childhood.
14. Hire a Photographer
This really isn’t an activity, but it’s an activity. You need a photographer. Even if you don’t do formal photos, hire one to take photos the day you’re all together.
Get family photos of each immediate family. Be sure to capture photos of the grandparents with their grandchildren. Take photos of the cousins.
Be sure to snap photos of the parents with their own kids, and don’t forget sibling photos. Finally, take a photo of everyone together. You will treasure these photos forever. Let the photographer grab candids, too. Those are the best.
15. Go on a Family Hike
My grandmother was always up for a walk or a hike until the end. She was so fit and active, healthy and amazing. Try a family walk or hike, if there is somewhere cool or lovely you can visit. Physical activity is so good for you.
16. Visit an Amusement Park
Are you near Disney? What about Universal? What about another amusement park I’ve never heard of because I’m a Floridian and those are the only places that matter? Visit one as a family. Do not forget to wear tacky matching shirts – it’s worth it.
17. Celebrate a Holiday
If you can work a holiday into your family reunion schedule, I’d advise you to do so. We always chose Father’s Day weekend for ours, and it was a great gift for my dad.
My brother and I got to spend Father’s Day with our parents, my dad got to spend it with his brothers. If my grandfather were still alive, he’d have spent it with his kids and grandkids. Holidays together are instant memory makers, and they’re filled with organic activities you don’t need to plan.
18. Have a Vow Renewal
All right – I love this idea. Is someone celebrating a major anniversary during or near your reunion? Plan an epic vow renewal and party. Let them have a quick ceremony, and then hire a DJ and party. It’s a great way to make memories, and who doesn’t want to celebrate their special day with their entire family?
19. Put Together a Puzzle
Puzzles are so low-key, but also require a lot of time. Something everyone loves is starting a puzzle together during a family reunion. Start it when everyone arrives and put it on a designated table.
People will come and go, and everyone will have a hand in putting it together. It’s a simple activity, but it’s one that will bring everyone together at different times. By the time it is complete, everyone will have spent at least a few minutes working on it.
20. Create a Family Time Capsule
I love this idea. Have every immediate family bring something special to them. Photos, trinkets, whatever – and put it in a time capsule. You don’t to bury it or anything, but someone should keep it. Once everything is put in there – secretly, of course – someone holds on to it. You can open it at a designated time in the future, but it’s really up to you.