The Family Reunion Trip: It's All Relatives
The Fisher history closely tracks that of many African American families. They are the descendants, by blood or marriage, of Orange and Berry Fisher, two brothers born in the late 1800s in Lancaster County, South Carolina. Both took up cotton and potato farming and, between them, fathered 16 children. The brothers died in the 1950s. Their descendants have been meeting every two years since the late 1990s.
The organizing committee expected between 150 and 200 family members to attend in Atlanta. At the registration desk, they traded hugs and picked up their green-and-gold reunion T-shirts (blue for organizers) and the three-day program.
The kickoff was low-key -- a reception in the ballroom, followed by a buffet supper of fried chicken, potato salad and baked beans served on paper plates. Emotions rolled through the room.
When just about any family member spoke, it was clear that the strongest thread that bound them was a respect for family ties. "My grandaddy always talked about how we should all find our way back to be in one place together," said one. "In some ways, this is the fulfillment of his dream."
Reunions have become more sophisticated, multi-dimensional and, in many cases, grander.
Once hosted in private homes or churches, they are now most often held in luxury hotels. Special reunion web sites and customized t-shirts are also common. Some families form nonprofit associations and use the funds raised to offer scholarships, buy real estate or assist family members in need.
The Fishers charged $80 per person for adults and $30 for children, not including travel; kids under 6 were free. That rate included most meals and entertainment; t-shirts and bus excursion were extra. The total cost was around $10,000, according to the reunion chair.
The first full day of the gathering started with the official family meeting started. This session, a standard feature of reunions, is where family business is discussed, including genealogy research, legal matters and fundraising concerns. The biggest issue was where to hold the next reunion.
The reunion organizers had deliberately crafted a program that featured a variety of voices. "We wanted everybody to see how fantastically their cousins sing or how well they make speeches. What better way to generate family pride and inspire the younger generation?"
In the afternoon, members visiting Atlanta for the first time, climbed on a bus chartered by the committee to see the city's African American heritage sites. At the first stop, Ebenezer Baptist Church, a guide spoke about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., who was pastor of the church during the 1960s. Across the street, at the King Center, the group watched videotapes of civil rights marches. Finally, they stopped at King's tomb, next door to the church.
For many, the day's richest moment was the formal dinner and dance. Uncles, aunts and cousins fanned into the hotel ballroom dressed in chic evening gowns and natty suits. Over dinner of baked salmon, broiled vegetables and petits fours, they listened to tribute paid to family elders and the names of the eldest and youngest family members, those who had recently graduated from high school and college, and those who had done military duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
No sooner were the tables cleared and the benediction said than an Atlanta deejay broke out the Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke and other soul and R&B oldies. The dance floor filled quickly and, for three hours, stayed packed.
No African American reunion is complete without a worship service. For the Fishers, the kind of loyal Baptists who open the church on Sunday mornings, it would be a centerpiece event. And so, early Sunday morning, decked out in stylish dresses, suits and hats, the extended family filed into the ballroom for the last time.
Eventually, though, they began to chat with one another. Three days of reconnecting, dancing, touring and laughing had bonded them, and it was hard for them to get up and leave.
From a story by Gary Lee in The Washington Post, Washington DC.
6 hot tips for a successful family reunion
Exhausting, exhilarating, bonding, hysterical and oh yeah, did I mention exhausting??
Yes! 1. Plan ahead
Think through a schedule. Consider the needs of attendees which change from year to year. Post a schedule. 2. Anticipate needs
Moms need a break from kids. So schedule “Mom’s Lunch Out.” Dads are in charge of the kids. Dads do the same the next day!
Moms need a break from cooking. Plan a “cook-off;” kids shop, prepare, and clean! Mom pays. Or each family is in charge of one evening meal and “KP” one day. Folks are on their own for breakfasts and lunch with plenty of “fixins.”
For early risers, have a large tub filled with markers, scissors, papers, stickers, pipe cleaners each morning to entertain small kids. 3. Create silly traditions
Have “welcome goody bags.” Organizer does ones for grandchildren and each adult couple brings something for each couple’s bag. This year adults got a CD mix including favorite songs they submitted, a “woopee” cushion, homemade granola, nuts, and sermons on CD. The kids got water bottles (from the Dollar Store) with their names on in magic marker. They also got funky small balls, and mints. We go berry picking, have a dance party, a scavenger hunt. Our favorite tradition is creating “Warren Country’s largest banana split.” Buy a gutter from the hardware store, line with foil and fill with ice cream, bananas, chocolate, and whip cream toppings. Everyone digs in.
Note: There is a picture on Pinterest (Reunions magazine) of a banana split on the Desserts & Sweets board. 5. Lower expectations and grant grace
Do not discuss difficult issues. Family reunions are a time to celebrate what is good. Deal with hard issues at other times. You are going to disappoint someone and someone is going to disappoint you. So determine ahead to grant extra grace and assume the best. Be quick to apologize and ask forgiveness. Everything will not go as planned. Plans are always subject to change and flexibility is crucial. 6. Express gratitude
From blogger Susan Yates who has five kids (including twins), 21 grandchildren and is a pastor’s wife.
How to Plan a Family Reunion Get organized. At least nine months in advance, start the conversation. Talk to family "thought leaders"—the ones who make the decisions. The earlier the better to coordinate family schedules. Delegate. Choose a leader to coordinate the event. You’ll need a reservation-keeper, another in charge of meal planning, another for activities. If all of this is starting to sound like work, it is. A reunion requires a staff that works independently and reports to the group regularly. Make reservations. Reservations can all be made online. Use a reliable service such as reunionsmaghotelplanner.com. Share all important dates, times, and ticket info. Get a head count and make lodging reservations six to nine months in advance. Buy plane tickets four to six months in advance. Book activities about two months in advance. Double-check your head count one month prior to travel. Re-confirm all reservations, airport transportation and car rentals one week in advance. Don’t forget the swag! A family reunion t-shirt—or tote bag, baseball cap, or custom-made craft—helps keep the memory alive. Display a family tree. Bring photo albums. But be sure to collect and organize family photos digitally for future reference. Take a group photo. Book a professional photo session. Pricey? It can be—but it's worth the quality of the photography, shot composition, and professional printing. Make a music video. Leave the tech to teens.
Ask kids to make name tags or dinner-table place cards. Pack craft paper and crayons.
From an article by Robert Firpo-Cappiello in Budget Travel Advice.
We are fam-ily: top 10 tips for planning a reunion 1. Keep everyone informed.
If your reunion is annual, setting a standing date is helpful. A consistent date helps family members schedule. 2. Food. Food. Food.
If members are local, then plan a potluck of everyone's signature dishes. Chip in for barbeque or grill. Homemade ice cream is a big treat.
If you are traveling, you may need to arrange catering. Or each branch of the family can be responsible for one meal including selecting the menu. 3. Location. Location. Location
The location of the family reunion is critical because it will affect attendance. 4. Activities for each generation.
Hearing about olden days is great talk at family reunions and can be interesting to kids. Kids should learn basic genealogy. Telling stories for hours may appeal to one generation while geocaching into the woods with cousins is fun for other generations. For the coolest family reunion ever-- rent a bouncy house. 5. Be flexible.
Weather is always a factor. Have an alternative location in mind. 6. Share responsibilities.
Divvy up responsibilities by family or by generation. Knowing in advance who is responsible for what will eliminate anyone feeling put-upon, for on-site logistics or clean-up. 7. Keep records.
Keep a database of contact information.
Do a headcount. Keep a notebook about who was in charge what, how many people attended and what investments were made. 8. Establish traditions.
Traditions make the reunion more fun and more of a can't miss event. 9. Discover and enjoy your family.
A reunion is what you make of it. Get off the lawn chair and mingle! Encourage your kids - teens or elementary age - to do the same.
From Bringing Home the Bacon blog by Holly Michael, APR.