I suppose all of us have our own favorite reason for having family reunions. In a way, they are extensions of family home evenings. Family reunions are an opportunity to gather our larger, eternal families together to learn to understand and love one another, and to unite ourselves in the work of the Lord, just as we do in family home evenings.
Having positive, enjoyable experiences together cements family relationships. Having fun together is a powerful and effective way to draw a family together. The lasting memories that are formed in well-planned family reunions will add to the respect and love that we hope to have for each other throughout eternity.
In addition, family reunions provide an opportunity for the younger family members to become acquainted with their relatives and their heritage. Perhaps this heritage is part of the sealing force between the children and the fathers to which Elijah referred. Through this heritage everyone has a chance to tie himself to a family in a patriarchal order.
Reunions are an excellent way to organize and gather genealogical information and to stimulate genealogical research. Often we spend a great deal of time researching our ancestors, while failing to record the marriages, new babies, temple endowments, and other information of our own family.
An essential step to successful reunions is organizing the family. A family organization is not complete until a chairman has been chosen to direct and supervise reunions for the family. The chairman may keep this position for many years. His responsibilities should include determining where and when the family would like the reunion and suggesting an enthusiastic relative from the locality chosen to be the director of the reunion. This director should be appointed yearly, but approved by all those at the reunion. He might be responsible for choosing a vice-chairman, a secretary, and a treasurer. We have found that it is helpful for the secretary and the treasurer to live in the same locality as the director.
Selecting the wrong time of year for a family get-together can be disastrous. The best time is when the most members of the family can attend, perhaps when the family is already free for a state or national holiday. A helpful idea is to schedule the reunion for the same time each year.
The selection of a place for a family reunion will also be a key factor in its success. If the theme of the reunion calls for a lot of genealogical papers to be spread out and a lot of writing to be done by many people, it should be indoors, under shelter from wind and rain. If there is a large banquet involving a lot of food and tables, a ward or stake cultural hall might be considered. For summertime reunions, look for a good grassy spot where the youth can play. A fenced-in area with plenty of play equipment will require fewer adults to supervise the toddlers. Families that enjoy volleyball, softball, and footraces should find a location with plenty of space. Trees are useful not only for shade but also for all types of swings and recreational equipment. When a temple session is on the program, the reunion should be held near a temple.
Reunion activities should be planned around a theme, which should also be evident in the invitation and the program. For example, a reunion with the theme of “heritage” could include favorite songs of Great-grandfather and century-old dances. For decorations, old farm machinery, scrubbing boards, and other old tools could be used. The activity section of the program might include games and activities that Great-grandfather played. Old-timers could participate in the program by telling what it was like when they were young. There could also be a skit about a humorous event in the life of one of the ancestors. The important factor in selecting a theme is to find a concept that will give unity to the various activities of the reunion.
Making creative, original, and unique invitations may take a little thinking, but they can make a great contribution to the success of the reunion. Often a family will decide to attend simply on the strength of a creative invitation. Besides announcing the theme, time, and place, an invitation could mention the program and the fun things that are going to happen and ask for a response indicating who will attend. The reunion director should send announcements to everyone concerned, from newlyweds to older folks. A picture of last year’s reunion, the up-to-date history of the family, and a newsletter could all be included. The invitation could also invite each family to come prepared to take part on the program or remind everyone to bring genealogical information.
The director of the reunion should be aware of the equipment needed: a source of electrical power, lights, cameras, screens, microphone, loud speakers, overhead projectors, film projectors, slide projectors, a record player, a tape recorder, etc. All genealogical equipment, including blank family group sheets, pedigree charts, old family pictures, family histories, and other genealogy forms could also be provided. Tables are needed for eating, doing genealogy, and making displays of books of remembrance and old family pictures. Name tags, a first aid kit, and extra games are also often useful.
When the reunion finally takes place, remember that everyone wants to be where the action is and to feel comfortable and relaxed. At a canyon reunion, activities could include several kinds of ball games—softball, volleyball, etc. These types of games not only interest a lot of people, but can easily absorb new people as they arrive.
Shyness will not last long if the activity director for the reunion has planned for the young as well as the older folks. Swings, frisbees, and other simple game equipment interest the young. A cable with a pulley swing tied between two trees will make an exciting swing.
If the reunion is held indoors, useful items are name tags and a large paper tree on the wall that each person can sign; it’s fun for family members to find which branch they belong to and to write their names on it. Some table games or indoor games can be played by any number of people; best are those that can absorb new players at any time. By minor changes in equipment, outdoor games such as soft-ball, volleyball, or hockey can be modified so that they can be played indoors.
After everyone has arrived and become tired of free-play activities, the activity director should lead a game that will help the group assemble into one area. Relay races, sawdust scrambles, and competitive games are usually the most enjoyable at this point. Several adults may be needed to arrange starting lines into age groups; others are needed to be judges and to hand out prizes.
Here are some ideas that we have found to be successful:
Sawdust Scramble Place several pennies, candy chews, or pieces of gum in a pile of sawdust or wood shavings. All children of the same age line up 50 feet away. At the starting signal, they run to the sawdust and hunt for candy. They may keep all they can find. Each age takes their turn, with more candy and more sawdust added with each age.
Four-way Tug-of-War Obtain 12 feet of soft cotton rope and tie the ends together. Place four people inside, facing outwards four different directions, and place the rope across their stomachs for a four-corner tug-of-war. All four participants try to reach for a piece of candy which is placed directly in front of them about six feet away. The person that first grabs his piece of candy is the winner and gets all four pieces of candy.
Pillow Free-for-All When the seats of old pants wear out, cut the legs off and fill the legs with sponge rubber. Sew the ends together and you have a fighting pillow. (These will last longer if they are double thickness.)
Each participant holds one foot in the air and swings the pillow with one hand, hitting whoever is handy. When a player loses his balance and falls, he is eliminated from the game. The players must stay inside the designated area. The player who can keep from being eliminated is the winner.
Multiple-legged Relay Race To make large elastic bands for some of the relays, an old inner tube may be used. Cut the tube in two-inch strips by cutting from the inside of the tube across to the outside.
For a three-legged race, place the rubber band around the inside legs of two people standing side by side. This may be extended to a five- or seven-legged race by placing more participants together.
Human Wheelbarrow Race One participant of a team places his hands on the ground (in a push-up position) and his partner steps between his legs and lifts him up by the knees. On the signal, the human wheelbarrow is pushed to the goal line; at this point the pusher and the wheelbarrow change places and run back to the starting point.
When the clan is tired of physical activities, it’s time to rest. This is a good opportunity for the program. A good program gives everyone a chance to get acquainted, and can be as much fun as any part of the reunion. Be careful, though, that the program isn’t the same year after year.
An exciting part of the program may be when Grandpa and Grandma tell stories of their younger days, and sing the songs that were popular when they fell in love. It will be a spiritual feast to hear the report of a newly returned missionary. Some families select a different ancestor to honor each year. Even though some families may not come prepared to participate on the program, the emcee could bring some readings or skits that can be done impromptu by those families.
If the emcee plans to arrange the various numbers in any sequence, he may want to visit the various families before the program begins and find out what each number is. Programs never drag with a prepared and enthusiastic emcee.
Just before or just after the program are good times to eat, if a meal is part of the agenda. Some families have established a tradition of barbecuing a whole leg of beef for large reunions. Other families eat the same fare as Great-grandmother once prepared.
One of the last items on the agenda may be the organizational meeting in which you plan the next reunion. The chairman takes charge long enough to select a new reunion director, time, and place. The new reunion director may want a few minutes to discuss ideas for the next reunion and to select new officers to help him. An up-to-date list of addresses and any reunion records should be turned over to the new officers. If the youth have a voice in what projects are planned, they will support them more fully.
Family home evenings are one of the most important meetings conducted among Church members today. Family reunions could be just as important. In one sense, when the family prepares and holds family reunions they are also preparing for eternity.
A good way to learn to love our relatives is to spend time together in well-planned family reunions. A family reunion can be a very personal and privileged gathering. If you have never organized your family for a reunion, start now—you will receive joy far beyond your expectations. Yes, there will be discouragements. Some family members will say they don’t have time or that they are too busy. But the rewards more than compensate for the discouragements.
It was our Father in heaven who first gathered us together in a great family reunion. Certainly we must have discussed our future, our leaders, and many other aspects of our life ahead. If our future families are to be together for eternity, why not start now to establish firm, loving, and powerful relationships in our own patriarchal orders through family reunions?