What's the most important decision when planning a family reunion? "Set a date so that family members can put it on their calendars before planning vacations," says Tom Ninkovich, author of Family Reunion Handbook (Reunion Research, 1998). And, remember, the key aspect of choosing a reunion date is to stick to your final decision. Changing the date will only create havoc for others. Things to consider when choosing a date: Plan ahead. Most reunions need to be planned one to two years in advance. Advance planning enables you to reserve the ideal meeting place. Planning ahead also allows attendees to set aside vacation time and save money they might need to attend. Get a consensus. Don't just pick the date that's right for you. Poll family members to avoid time conflicts. If there are family members who absolutely must attend (for example, grandparents), check with them first. Then choose a date that's best for most people. There are many ways to choose a date. You could offer 3-4 different options and have family members send in their votes by a certain deadline. You might want to offer some explanation as to why certain dates might be better than others. For example, your initial mailing might say: "Uncle Bert will be celebrating his 80th birthday on June 10. Wouldn't it be great to pay tribute to our favorite uncle by throwing a family reunion that weekend?" Then offer two or three other possible dates as a backup. Let family members know that majority rules. Unfortunately, someone will always have a conflict. One way to resolve this problem is to set potential dates for the next two reunions. That way, people who can't attend this time will hopefully make it to the next one.
Select a date. Here are a few suggestions:
- Family milestone or special day: These types of dates might include a silver or golden anniversary, a grandparent's or elder's birthday, a wedding or graduation, an ancestor's birthday or date of immigration, a retirement party, a birth, or an ethnic or religious holiday.
- Time of year/season: "Most family reunions are held between June and September because the weather is better, travel is easier, school is out, and summer is the traditional time for vacations," says Ninkovich. However, some families prefer to take advantage of "off season" value packages, which include April-May, October-November, and December-February (except at tropical beach resorts and ski areas). Accommodations and airline rates tend to be lower at these times. The drawbacks are that travel conditions may be harsh (think snow), and kids tend to be in school.
- Holidays: In some cities, legal holidays such as Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day are considered "off" season because the usual business travelers are on vacation. Long holiday weekends are usually perfect for reunions in cities like Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. Keep in mind that Thanksgiving or year-end holidays work well for small reunions close to home. But these holidays usually don't work well for large or geographically distant families, since most people tend to be more focused on their own nuclear families at this time of year.
- A specific reunion date, weekend, or month: "Many families set a particular reunion date they can count on from year to year, such as the 'second Saturday in August,'" says Ninkovich. "The reunion may not be held every year, but when it is held everyone knows when it will be."
Reunions can last anywhere from an afternoon to three or more days. "A general rule is that the farther people must travel, the longer the reunion should last," says Ninkovich. Few people will fly cross-country for afternoon tea. Small reunions average one day. Larger reunions last about two or three days. You don't want them to last too long, Ninkovich advises. "Your next reunion will benefit if you leave them wanting more."
Continued on page 2: Choosing a Site