Throwing a Perfect Family Reunion Party

By Aimee Lyons

Planning a family reunion this summer? Here are a few things to keep in mind before the crowd arrives.

Before Aimee shares her tips, let me reminisce… Family reunions can be remarkable moments that bind a family closer through the generations, or lost opportunities. An example of the former–as a personal historian I was once hired to conduct a “performance” oral history interview with the oldest generation of a family. I sat the four brothers, ranging in age from early 70s to later 80s, in a row and recorded a conversation in which I guided them through their earliest memories and stories of their mom and dad. Even the little children came in from the “bouncy house” to see what was going on–and stayed. For over two hours. Everyone was spellbound by those four great storytellers, recounting THEIR family lore. Afterward my client family got the recordings, and the genealogy maven drew content for months of family newsletters from those stories. A family ensured its memories would last as long as its DNA.

On the other hand, there are gatherings where no one prioritizes the stories–and all you get is a photo or two and a memory that will fade. Now I’ll let Aimee take it away. If you are planning a family get-together this summer, please heed her advice!  – Sarah White

Here I am at one of “those” family reunions in 2012 at Winona Lake, Indiana.


Family reunions will last hours after they are scheduled to end.

Your ancestral line probably hasn’t been in such close quarters since your last family bash. This means lots of catching up. Make everyone as comfortable as possible with plenty of seating and access to ice cold beverages. Have at least three gathering spaces in the shade, and place several large trash cans throughout the venue to make cleanup easier at the end of the day.

Pace yourself.

Hosting a family reunion is an art form that requires patience and a certain amount of finesse. You can’t just throw a pile of food and drinks on the table and call it a success. Before guests arrive, fill coolers with ice, bottled waters, and other individual drinks. As aunts, uncles, and cousins begin to find your doorstep, place non-dairy-based appetizers out for grazing. Fire up the grill or place your main meat course on the table once the bulk of your group has arrived. If it’s a large group, you should allow around two hours for everyone to eat their fill before opening up the dessert bar which, ideally, is comprised of brownies, cookies, and other fun fare that won’t succumb to the heat of the sun.

Enjoy the evening.

Now that you’ve spent the last six hours catering to everyone else, it’s time to relax for a while before cleaning up. Light a few citronella candles and throw some wood in the fire pit (learn how to build one in a single day here) if your party is slated to last well after sunset. The bulk of the cleanup can wait until morning.

Tips and tricks

If you have family struggling with addiction recovery, forgo booze and opt for fun summertime beverages, such as fruit tea, lemonade, and flavored water. It can be difficult for your loved one to stay sober when everyone around them thinks it’s time to party like a rock star. If you do offer alcohol, have plenty of non-alcoholic options at the ready and close the bar at least two hours before the party is over to reduce the risk of anyone driving while impaired. If there is an alcohol-related accident after leaving your party, you may be held accountable. And remember, reducing alcohol availability will also help cut down on family conflict.

When picking foods, throw a few vegetarian options on the table for family members with dietary restrictions, and cook the vegetables first to avoid cross-contamination with raw meats. Keep an eye on the weather and remember that appetizers such as chips and salsa will last longer outdoors than a meat and cheese tray.

Have plenty of activities, especially for the younger family members. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to entertain children. Those in the 10-and-under crowd will likely be happy with bubbles, water balloons, and lawn games, many of which you can make yourself. Have a separate cooler full of juice boxes and small bottled waters for the kids. Tweens and teens make an excellent cleanup crew that you can likely bribe for just a few bucks each. Don’t forget to have plenty of popsicles to help your smallest guests cool off.


For the older crowd, remember that there will be lots of reminiscing going on. Be sure to put out photo albums and make a few posters covered in a variety of family photos. A picture can easily be the perfect prompt an uncle needs to tell the funniest story about your mom that you’ve never heard. Also, try leaving a few empty notebooks and pens laying around for people to share a story or a remembrance. And if you want to go the extra mile, have someone walking around during the day taking video to mark the occasion and to document all the family stories that come up. It’s a great way to catalog family history, and there just might be a surprise tale that you’ll come across later when it’s all said and done.

Make sure you have ample paper products available so as to avoid breaking into – and possibly breaking – your fine China. At a minimum, strive for two sets of dinnerware per person. This includes cups, plates, napkins, and cutlery. Don’t forget to restock your supply of toilet paper, paper towels, and tissues before the big day.

Don’t stress when things don’t go exactly your way and don’t be afraid to ask for help before, during, and after the event. At the end of the day, the goal is to make sure that everyone has a belly full of good food, a heart full of love, and the head full of memories to last until next year.

© 2017 Aimee Lions, the “DIY Darlin‘” who loves to craft, paint, build, and spread her creative touch all over her world. She shares her love of DIY and offered this post to True Stories Well Told. Besides DIY she loves spending time with friends and family in Austin, TX.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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