Tips for a Successful Family Reunion

How do you make your family reunion successful, not stressful? One very large East Coast family shares how theirs became an event to remember

Tips for a Successful Family ReunionAsk Geralyn MacDonald of Fall River, N.S., the one thing she would have done differently at her family’s reunion and the answer is simple. “We would have had it sooner.”

The first-ever MacDonald reunion took place last August in Florence, N.S., gathering the descendants of Harry and Elizabeth MacDonald, the parents of 19 children, who in turn had 72 offspring. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising when 250 relatives from across Canada and beyond returned to the Cape Breton village where it all started for a weekend filled with activities, food and reminiscing.

But whether your reunion is on the smallish size (one afternoon, a few dozen people and a potluck park picnic, like my husband’s family’s yearly event) or a big production like the MacDonalds’, the result is the same: an opportunity to connect and to celebrate what is special about your family bond.

how the MacDonalds did it

Planning Committee Having a small group of people responsible for the details (date, location, food) is essential, says MacDonald, one of the organizers of the reunion. She also advises including representatives from each of the families on the committee to ensure a good cross-section of feedback, a sense of inclusion and to provide an instant communication network to each branch of the family tree.

Going Online MacDonald says the “absolutely greatest discovery” they made was learning how to create a family reunion website. They used to get the word out. The paid site became the reunion’s central point of information — receiving 9,500 hits over three months. “We received lots of wonderful comments about it from many people even from outside of the family,” says MacDonald. Having a website that could be accessed worldwide 24/7 not only saved on phone bills and postage, it gave organizers the reporting they needed to plan and prepare the reunion, plus it provided a place for people to get to know each other leading up to the event. “It really got the adrenaline going.”

The Finances Organizers covered the reunion’s expenses by charging a registration fee ($50 for adults, $15 for those 18 and under, and children under two were free). This covered all meals, the DJ rental and other miscellaneous costs such as equipment and supplies needed for activities. “Luckily,” says MacDonald, “the rental of the Florence Fire Hall and parks were complimentary to us, as my father was a volunteer fireman for 35 years in Florence — thus saving us a huge cost.”

The Activities The reunion was a three-day event, so organizers planned a golf tourney, a meet-and-greet barbecue, a “MacDonald Idol” talent show, crafts projects for the kids, a softball game, a dinner/dance and finally, a family Mass at the local church and a closing brunch.

MacDonald says her advice for people organizing a reunion is to keep it simple, since most people will want to just chat and become reacquainted. “It’s important to remember that with anything too complex or over-organized, you lose the aspect of having fun and the spontaneity.” As an example, MacDonald said on the night of their dance, family members gathered, hand in hand, to sing along to The Island (a song that tells of the hardships of working the coal mines and leaving the island to find other work) and Rise Again (another Cape Breton anthem). “This was a spontaneous and unplanned show of pride in our family and where we come from,” she explains.

A Family Reunited “It was a very emot-ional weekend, from beginning to end,” MacDonald recalls, citing the many tears shed by those that hadn’t seen each other in years, those seeing each other for the first time, and the tears of appreciation from the first generation, who were deeply thankful for the reunion.

As for the next one, MacDonald says the talk was every five years, “but I think maybe every two years. It was truly an amazing weekend.”

CF‘s senior editor Robin Stevenson’s family knows she can be counted on to bring devilled eggs and fried chicken to their annual reunion.

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