We love a classic family cookout as much as the next gal. But if we’re honest, your folks have been grilling up the same tired hams and hots at the annual barbecue since the Nixon administration. The good news is planning a meaningful, memorable and fun family reunion—even the virtual kind—doesn’t have to be hard. We’ve got some fresh ideas from multi-generational games to DIY photo booths (all of which can be pivoted online btw) to keep the whole gang entertained. Now, the only thing left to do is get all 17 of your cousins to agree on a date.
21 Family Reunion Ideas That Never Get Old
1. Throw a dance party.
Fact: Everyone loves dancing with abandon, and there’s no need to wait until the next family wedding to do so. Book a DJ for a family hoedown or '80s revival night. Need to do this virtually? You can still hire a DJ and have him Zoom in and crank the tunes.
2. Make it a virtual bake-off.
Yes, you’d rather all be together, but the laughs won’t stop when you channel The Great British Bake-Off and send every household your grandma’s famous chocolate chip cookie recipe, then video chat as everyone bakes them together. (Points for presentation!)
3. Try an ancestor trivia night.
Do a deep dive through the family records and poll everyone for fun facts to be quizzed on. When did Grandpa Joe come to America? What year did Cousin Amy get married? (If you have to move this Q&A online, be sure to hit “record” so your reunion becomes something you can save for the grandkids.)
4. Print a family cookbook.
Task everyone with bringing a favorite recipe and have them bound into a book to take home. (Long live Nana’s red bliss potato salad.) (Yes, this can totally be executed virtually and distributed after.)
5. Craft a DIY photo booth.
No need to rent a real one; just get creative. Hang some frames from a tree and keep a fun prop bin on hand. Then set up a phone on a tripod and snap away. And, worse case, if you can’t all be together, have everyone come up with their own props and email out a Zoom background that says, “Smith Family Reunion or Bust” with the date. (Let the screenshots begin!)
6. Throw an outdoor movie night.
Rent a projector and bring blankets, pillows and snacks to the lawn for a mock drive-in. Make it potluck to take it up a notch. (The good news it that you can pull this off while socially distanced…or you can take it online via the ‘Netflix Party’ extension.)
7. Plan a virtual scavenger hunt.
The task: One person calls out the names of common household objects. (Batteries! A family photo! Something French!) Everyone on the video call has 60 seconds to find and present one that fits the description to get a point.
8. Hand out family photo books.
Collect photos from Facebook—and ask the less tech savvy members of the bunch to snail mail you some—then have them bound in a beautiful book and make copies for everyone.
9. Print tote bags embossed with your family tree.
A decidedly useful, interesting and non-hideous freebie.
10. …Or masks.
Snapfish gives you the option to customize…with photos. Talk about a genius memento.
11. Hold a talent show.
Who better to judge your tap-dancing skills than your own kin? No concert hall necessary. (But really…this game was meant for Zoom.)
12. Make it a themed celebration.
If you’re in person, you can cook something that celebrates your heritage—say, a menu that’s entirely Greek. If you’re virtual, encourage everyone to don their best PJs. Or throwback t-shirt. Then, see point #5 about the photobooth.
13. Or play a game that’s not uber-competitive.
Try a low-impact summer sport (no fights, thank you very much) that suits all ages. And if you want to make things interesting, include small prizes for the winning team. (If you can’t get together, opt to do a virtual game—the app House Party is made for group video chats and has a ton of family friendly options ranging from Head’s Up to Chips & Guac.)
Encourage family members to bring belongings they no longer want (clothes, furniture etc.) and do a family-style round-robin. You just might end up with Aunt Cindy’s beloved tea towels… (If you’re virtual, have everyone Vanna White their objects and turn into an auction where the best reason for wanting said item wins.)
15. Travel to a special destination.
Not all reunions need to be held at home. If your budget is a bit more flexible, host it somewhere with fun attractions you can experience together. (Yes, a socially distanced beach trip where everyone drives separately can work if everyone wears masks and takes proper precautions.)
16. Light a bonfire.
Create the ideal setting for telling family stories (especially family ghost stories). Whether out in nature or right there in your own backyard, bonfires never get old.
17. Play reunion bingo.
Print out bingo cards with questions—er, descriptions in each box (“has a tattoo” or “whose favorite food is sushi”). Players then circulate, searching out family members who fit the category and have them sign the box. The game ends once everyone gets bingo. You might just learn something new about Uncle Johnny.
18. Make an all-inclusive monogram gift.
Embroider a family inside joke or favorite phrase on espadrilles, hoodies or towels. Everyone (no matter how old) loves a take-home goodie bag. But if you have to do it virtually, have everyone craft the phrase while they chat.
19. Create a nacho bar.
Sure, you can just make (or buy) a plate of nachos, but a DIY nacho bar can be way more fun. Designate a table or countertop strictly for the bar and include bowls and plates of toppings—everything from cheese to jalapeños and meats.
20. Send everyone a virtual ‘Escape the Crate’ box.
It’s called Escape the Crate and everyone can work together (remotely) to solve each clue.
21. Document the whole thing.
Take videos and pictures of your reunion activities and ask that relatives state their names and relationship to others. If you’re tech-savvy, you can create a reel and make copies to send those who attended (as well as those who couldn’t make it). Or save it to watch at the next family event. Better yet, if you have to be virtual for your reunion, organize to pre-record the interviews, then splice them together for a video you air when everyone dials in. Just ping everyone with an advance PSA: Have tissues at the ready.
Maybe the most important tip: Have a backup plan. Weather disturbances—or a global pandemic—can get in the way, but as long as you’ve got a plan B, you’ll be ready for whatever gets thrown your way.