15 Fabulous Themes for Your Next Family Reunion

by Lisa Alzo | Oct 1, 2013

Family reunions are the perfect venue to reconnect with relatives, or meet new cousins. They also take some planning to make the occasion memorable for the attendees. If you are a first time reunion planner, you will want to encourage all generations to participate in the scheduled activities for the day or weekend. Or, perhaps you've been attending reunions for many years, and feel you've played enough softball, or volleyball, pitched one too many horseshoes, and need something to generate "reunion buzz." One way to create some fun or break the monotony is to have a theme reunion.

Choosing a Theme

My mother's family has held an annual reunion for 46 years. Our very first theme was a Bicentennial celebration in 1976, and over the years we have incorporated a number of different themes to enhance our annual gatherings. We're currently discussing ideas for our 47th reunion, scheduled for July 2014.

If you've never tried a theme before, poll your family members with a paper, e-mail, or online survey. This should be done at least a year in advance. Once you decide on a theme, start planning your menu, costumes, and activities. Consider purchasing decorations in bulk either from party stores, retail outlets, or via the Internet. Look for off-season sales or deals. When buying food, shop discount clubs, or budget for a caterer. For costumes, check your basement or attic for vintage clothing, props, decorations, etc., or make your own from materials around the house or from craft stores.

Themes are not difficult or expensive to implement, and can inspire the creative side of many members in your family. Below are 15 fabulous ideas to consider for your next family reunion.

1. All-American

Show your patriotic spirit!
Food: Hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, chips, soda, and maybe a delicious Apple Pie for desert! Red, white and blue sugar cookies, cakes, or gelatin desserts.
Dress: Patriotic t-shirts, and anything red, white, and blue such as hats, bandanas, buttons, socks, etc. Face painting for the kids.
Decorations: Flags, streamers, sparklers (check regulations if allowed and supervise young children).
Activities: Frost and decorate pre-baked cookies or cupcakes. Play "Musical Chairs" to patriotic songs. Host an American Idol-like competition for the children or teens with the older generation serving as judges.

2. Who Do You Think You Are?

A great way to incorporate genealogy!
Food: A "pot-luck" with regional dishes or ethnic foods and drink.
Dress: Dress up as your favorite ancestor or historical figure.
Decorations: Family photographs, family tree charts.
Activities: Set up an "Amazing Race" type game where teams compete in challenges using customs from different countries. Prepare a photo slideshow or movie of your ancestors. Create a trivia game using questions about your family.

3. Christmas in July

A timeless theme. NOTE: Substitute other winter holidays such as Hanukkah or Kwanzaa and respective activities as appropriate.
Food: Favorite foods from your ethnic or family Christmas customs. Holiday cookies.
Dress: Wear anything red and green. Christmas t-shirts reindeer antlers and Rudolph's nose. Christmas jewelry.
Decorations: Red and green streamers, holiday placemats, Christmas tree/ lights, Dancing Santa and singing trees. (Save your holiday gift boxes and paper for use at the reunion).
Activities: Reindeer Games (contests and races). "Bring-a-gift, get-a-gift" present exchange. Write your own "Twas the Night Before Christmas" story. Have a holiday sing-a-long. 

4. Hawaiian Luau

One of the most popular party themes.
Food: Pineapple and coconut; macadamia nuts; assorted fruit drinks.
Dress: Hawaiian shirts and leis! Grass skirts.
Decorations: Inflatable palm trees, hula novelties, etc.
Activities: Limbo, hula hoop contest, hula dancing, or "My-Tie" contest where everyone wears a decorated tie and the person with the most creative tie wins a prize.

5. Toga Party

Host a "family-friendly" version of the 80s movie "Animal House."
Food: Gyros, stuffed grape leaves, spanakopita, baklava, or serve pizza and assorted snacks.
Dress: Take your favorite bed sheet and make a toga to wear over your street clothes. Decorate the toga to reflect your personality and accessorize with a wreath made from olive leaves.
Decorations: Cutouts of Greek columns, ivy, etc.
Activities: Parade of togas contest for the best or most creative toga. Dancing contest to "Shout" by Otis Day and the Nights. Mini-Olympics with assorted team relays and sports.

6. Mexican Fiesta

Have your own "Cinco de Mayo" celebration!
Food: Make your own tacos; margaritas and fruit drinks; tortilla chips and salsa.
Dress: Ponchos, Mexican hats, senorita dresses/skirts.
Decorations: Mini hats, streamers, maracas, etc.
Activities: Mexican hat dance, conga line, piñata breaking contest.

7. Country-Western

Lift spirits with an old-fashioned hoe down!
Food: Steaks; fried chicken, cornbread, pecan pie.
Dress: Overalls, flannel shirts, "Minnie Pearl" hats, and bandanas.
Decorations: Cardboard fence, plastic farm animals, straw hats and hay.
Activities: Talent show, square dancing, pumpkin seed spitting contest; sack races.

8. Milestones

Do you have one or more family members celebrating a milestone, such as a 25th anniversary, 80th birthday, etc.? This is a great theme to honor several family members at once.
Food: Catered fare; special "Happy Anniversary/Birthday" cake.
Dress: Customized t-shirts for occasion. Wear silver for 25; gold for 50, etc. Special keepsakes (such as a VoiceQuilt--see image below).
Decorations: Gold or silver or other appropriate streamers and favors.
Activities: Family toasts, song tributes, or trivia game.

voicequiltbox.jpg

9. 60s/Woodstock

Revisit the dawning of the "Age of Aquarius" with this groovy theme.
Food: Potluck (Anything goes!); rainbow punch, nostalgic candy such as Atomic fireballs and Zotz! Check old cookbooks or the Internet for more 60s recipes.
Dress: Tie-dye (of course); bell-bottoms, hippie wigs, beads, or John Lennon "granny" glasses.
Decorations: Peace signs, rainbow streamers, beads.
Activities: Karaoke. Make your own tie-dye shirts.

10. 70s/Disco

Can you dig it? Get your dancing shoes on and go retro.
Food: Assorted appetizers; smiley-face cookies.
Dress: Leisure suits, vests, platform shoes, glitter dresses, mood rings.
Decorations: Disco ball and colored lights. Make your own picture booth with male and female disco dancer cutouts.
Activities: Line dancing (do the hustle). Dance contest (YMCA, anyone?). Bring back the "gong show" with a talent contest.

11. Cartoon Characters

"What's Up Doc?" Adults and kids alike will enjoy this theme.
Food: Traditional picnic fare, Cartoon-themed food like Scooby Snacks (Scooby-Doo), Tang (Jetsons), Cocoa and Fruity Pebbles treats (Flintstones), and carrot sticks (Bugs Bunny). Cake or cookies in shapes of favorite cartoon characters.
Dress: T-shirts (novelty) or a costume of your favorite character.
Decorations: Pictures of cartoon characters. Assorted novelty, plates, cups and napkins. Plush toys of your favorite cartoon characters.
Activities: Contest for "Best Character" costume. Cartoon trivia game.

12. Sportscornhole.jpg

Just about everyone has a favorite sport. Celebrate them all in this easy-to-put-together theme. 
Food: Hot dogs, popcorn, soda pop, peanuts, burgers. 
Dress: T-shirt of a favorite sports team: shorts, baseball caps. 
Decorations: Footballs, baseballs, basketballs, etc. Colored streamers and posters reflecting favorite sports teams. 
Activities: Softball, badminton, volleyball, or cornhole tournaments (see photo at right). "Best Uniform" contest where the person with the most number of sports represented in his/her costume and/or the greatest number of different sports wins a prize (team t-shirt, cap, etc.); sports trivia game.

13. New Year's Eve

Ring in the New Year on your own time!
Food: Hot dogs and sauerkraut and pork, assorted appetizers; champagne and/or sparking grape juice toast.
Dress: Formal party attire; New Year's hats and noisemakers.
Decorations: Streamers, signs, hourglasses.
Activities: Create a family time capsule where everyone brings an item (see the Internet for companies who sell professional containers). Countdown to midnight. Singing "Auld Lang Syne" followed by a New Year's Toast.

14. Halloween

Do the "Monster Mash" and have a "ghostly good time."
Food: "SandWitch" tray (cut out the bread into scary Halloween ghosts, pumpkins, etc.), caramel apples, popcorn balls, lots of candy!
Dress: Your favorite Halloween costume!
Decorations: Pumpkins, Halloween decorations, black and orange lights and streamers, novelties.
Activities: Costume contest (most creative, scariest, funniest, etc.) Pumpkin carving contest. Scary stories. Trick-or-treat for the kids. Do the "Monster Mash."

15. Casino/Family Game Day

Take a gamble on this fun-for-all-ages theme.
Food: Assorted finger foods; sandwiches made with diamonds, clubs, hearts, and spades), wrapped chocolate coins; cut-out cookies.
Dress: Casual; novelty bandanas.
Decorations: Extra Large playing cards, gold and silver streamers.
Activities: Bingo, blackjack, roulette wheel, or other games of chance. (All games played for fun with play money.) Monopoly and other board games. Have a Las Vegas show contest (imitate a favorite performer).

Special Considerations

Before deciding on a theme, take into account who will be attending your reunion, their ages and general interests, and be sensitive to personal beliefs, dietary needs, and comfort-level concerns. If this is your first family reunion and you are meeting family members for the first time, consider a more "generic" theme until you get to know them. After all, you want your reunion to be a joyous occasion and not an event that isolates participants or makes them feel uneasy or uncomfortable.

Conclusion

Whether you decide to try one of the themes suggested above, or choose one of your own, the key is to let your imagination soar, and soon you will have many ideas for family fun at your next get together. Once you explore the endless possibilities a themed-reunion presents, you will likely look forward to planning the next one with great enthusiasm.


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