In her lavish book, B. Smith: Rituals & Celebrations, (1999, 241 pages, hardbound. Random House, New York NY) we learn about her family reunions. While B. Smith has many intriguing suggestions to consider, these are some we found interesting.
Smith suggests that “a lot of time and energy goes into planning things so that everybody would go back home feeling happy and enriched. Your lifestyle might be completely different from the lifestyles of other family members, but there’s still that thread of shared experience and a common history. If the site is appealing, more people are likely to come.
“The first thing I recommend to anyone who’s about to embark on this mission is that they lighten their workload by forming a committee of volunteers to help. You don’t need experts — any relative who’s enthusiastic about the idea will do… In a committee, everyone can pool their expertise.” These days, if you have access to e-mail and a fax machine, it doesn’t even matter how close to you your committee members live.
Hold a yard sale and use the proceeds to purchase something in the family name — plant a tree marked with a plaque, donate a brick to a local college or a seat in the concert hall or community theater, give books with nameplates to a church or school. Or make a gift to charity.
Ask everyone to nominate themselves for an award in any category in which they consider themselves special. Tell them the categories can range from serious to silly: oldest, traveled furthest to reunion, most grandchildren, best hair, strangest musical talent, weirdest occupation, most degrees, biggest foot, and so on. Make the ‘awards ceremony’ part of the fun on Friday or Saturday night. You can buy medals from a trophy shop, or make your own, to add to the fun.
Smith continues “My family’s Saturday afternoon outdoor games event was a huge success, because it gave everybody the freedom to be totally silly. There are lots of laughs to be had when a group of people of different sizes and shapes get together to play games like horseshoes, softball, tug of war, relay races, or steal the bacon.” In case the weather doesn’t go along with your plans, have equipment ready for indoor games – bingo, cards, and board games – and arts and crafts for the children.
Every family reunion should have one formal dinner-dance party so everyone has an opportunity to enjoy one another’s company while they’re all dressed up. Smith comments, “I’ve always found that people are different when they’re in formal dress.” You’ll probably plan this for Saturday evening at a restaurant or hotel.
You might decide to start dinner off with a speech, or with the saying of grace. “One of my friends asked her hundred-year-old great-great-grandmother to say grace before the formal dinner at her family reunion. Whether a prayer or a toast feels more right for you and your family, these moments of composure before the meal begins help focus everyone on the experience of being gathered together under one roof.”
Before everyone leaves, hold a family meeting. Take a vote on when and where to have the next reunion, and decide who will be in charge. And don’t forget to take a family picture. “One family I know,” Smith writes, “has created a ritual around the annual reunion photo, with everyone posing in a pyramid organized by weight. The heaviest stand at the bottom; the lightest perch on top. It’s funny to look back at the pictures over the years and see various family members ‘dropping down.'” EW