The Frederick family has had three successful Thanksgiving reunions. All were at the Fox Chapel Racquet Club in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and without the assistance of a professional caterer.
Here’s what we learned after three Thanksgiving reunions:
- Tour the facility, especially the kitchen, several days in advance to learn what is missing (serving silverware, dishes or pot holders and plastic gloves) and what equipment might not be functioning (ovens, microwaves or sinks).
- Encourage family members to bring guests and friends.
- Don’t charge a fee. Instead ask everyone to bring something based on their talents and ability to pay. Everyone contributed to the success of the reunion from beverages to desserts, favors (see sidebar), floral arrangements and hors d’oeuvres to fully-cooked, stuffed turkeys.
- Be specific about what members should bring. Being open-ended might reap too many side dishes or desserts, although leftovers are popular with the Frederick clan. Assign items alphabetically. For example, A-E were responsible for side dishes, F-N desserts, etc.
- Involve the kids. They wrote the letters of “Happy Thanksgiving” on large sheets of paper, then stood up and shouted “Happy Thanksgiving!” to start the meal. Near the end of the day there was story-telling for kids and adults.
- Divide large tasks. For example, assign more than one person to be responsible for kitchen duties. Delegate every single important task, even ordering linens and taking pictures, watching children and clean up.
- Assign someone to call each family to the buffet table and help control the hungry crowd.
- Assign someone to refill beverages, side dishes, breads, and desserts. This way you won’t discover after the reunion you really didn’t run out of something that was in demand.
- Clean up spills immediately to prevent falls. It’s also a good idea to have emergency phone numbers handy.
- Decorate a Thanksgiving Day tree. Everyone was asked to write what they were thankful for on the back of their name tags and then hang them on a large potted tree.
- Designate a place of honor. We had comfortable chairs in front of the fireplace so head of the family, 86-year-old Betty Frederick, from Arizona, could talk with her 10 children, 33 grandchildren, 40 great-grandchildren, and 2 great-great-grandchildren.
- Chose not to have a disc jockey so family members could talk without having to compete with loud music.
- Some people still want to be entertained. Include a survey with the invitation for ideas and suggestions.
- Something as simple as door prizes are popular with kids and adults. At one reunion, we had a slide show of pictures submitted by everyone. We also used computer enhancement to combine pictures of people to see what their future children might look like. Attendees liked the software creations; technical assistance was provided.
- Set up a tripod and camera so families can have their pictures taken. Many tuck the photos in their Christmas cards.
- Encourage parents of young children to give little ones a snack or a light meal in case dinner is late.
- Be flexible and patient. For instance, if someone insists on doing something a certain way and is willing to be responsible, then let the person do it. If it doesn’t turn out quite right, remember not to do it that way next time.
- Keep a file of what worked and what didn’t work. The next reunion organizers will appreciate it.
- Pray about the function before, during (including grace) and after. One final piece of advice: Be thankful no matter what happens, whether dinner is late or food burns. Having a plan is important, but being flexible is critical.