Family reunions inspire both excitement and dread. Most people take pleasure in reuniting with loved ones they haven't seen in a long time. Other attendees worry about interpersonal conflicts, the stress of forgetting names, or the potential for hours and hours of all-encompassing boredom.
Large family gatherings vary in style from family to family. Some are raucous events with hundreds of people, while others are much smaller and more reserved. No matter the size of your family, planning for a successful and fun reunion doesn't have to be time consuming. Just have a few structured events and games ready to go, and everyone will feel more at ease to enjoy each others' company.
Here, we've listed -- in no particular order -- 10 fun, easy-to-plan activities that will work in a wide range of settings. These games will keep people occupied and communicating with lighthearted chatting. In the process, participants will create lasting, pleasant memories and maybe even take home some prizes.
Because kids are so easy to entertain, and because games for adults are harder to find, the activities included here are appropriate for a wide range of ages. Both children and their parents will have a great time at reunions when you put these creative ideas to use.
When it comes to family reunion ice breakers, there's a simple beauty to bingo. Bingo loosens people up with some gentle competition and lets people exchange banter, but also gives you an excuse to escape tedious, one-on-one conversations with a great aunt you haven't seen in 20 years.
The informal structure of bingo means people can join or leave the game at intervals. That way you can take a break from non-stop socializing and rest while still engaging in the fun atmosphere of a relaxing game. To hold the attention of attendees, ask that everyone bring a small, inexpensive gift. At the end of each session, the winner can select a prize.
Better yet, you can put a little more effort into this exercise and play bingo with family names. Write each person's name on a sheet of paper and put the names into a hat. Then hand everyone a sheet of paper with a grid of 12 squares.
Pass these sheets around the room and have everyone write his or her name into a random square. Once the squares on each person's grid are full, the game begins. Simply pull names from the hat and call the name out loud. Then put that name aside, shake the hat and repeat the process.
In very large families where names aren't familiar, each time a name is drawn, that person can stand or raise his or her hand. This is a good way to learn people's names while making the game more personal, too.
Hot Potato Camera Game
Digital cameras are everywhere, especially family reunions. Instead of just taking awkward snapshots of everyone as they're stuffing their faces with apple pie, put your camera to use in a 21st-century version of musical chairs. Not only is this game hilariously fun, but it lets you capture memories while you're creating them. All you need is a digital camera with a self-timer and a flash.
Have everyone sit in a circle. The person with the camera sets the self-timer and makes sure the auto-flash mode is engaged, points the camera at him- or herself (at arm's length) for a moment and then passes the camera. Everyone passes the camera until the camera takes a picture.
The person left holding the camera when it fires must perform some predetermined act. For example, they must wear a silly hat, or tell a joke. After the reunion, the camera's owner can upload the images to a photo-sharing site for everyone to enjoy.
Remember a couple of pointers when you play this game. First, don't use a brand-new, expensive camera, because there's a good chance someone will become overexcited and drop it. And second, consider using the video mode, too. You can start recording a video clip and set a kitchen timer. The clips will be blurry and jerky, but the laughter and glimpses of your loved ones are worth capturing.
Sometimes the simplest games turn out to be incredibly fascinating, especially at family reunions. This interview game is a great way to get people talking and sharing unknown tidbits about their lives.
Everyone who wants to play writes his or her name on a slip of paper and deposits it into the hat. The slips are jumbled, and each player pulls a name from the hat, keeping that name a secret.
During the day, each person seeks out the person whose name he or she drew, and asks that person to share a little-known fact about his or her life. Keep the questions simple, and of course, not too personal. Questions can relate to favorite foods, activities and music, or they can be biographical in nature. Maybe Uncle Ron moved 10 times before he was 10 years old. Or perhaps when Aunt Martha was a young girl, she used to sneak barn cats into the house at night.
This interview should be performed as discreetly and casually as possible, so that no one else suspects that the chat is related to the game. Give the participants a time limit. After everyone has had a chance to conduct an interview, bring the group together.
Without naming the interviewee, everyone shares the detail or secret they learned. Everyone else in the group writes the name of the person they think each secret is about, without saying so out loud.
At the end, everyone reveals who they interviewed. The winner is the person who matched the most secrets to the correct people.
Jigsaw Puzzle Race
At some family reunions, really competitive games sometimes create big laughs. A jigsaw puzzle race may seem like a low-key game, but it doesn't take long to bring out the spirit of competition at large family events -- so much so that you may want to avoid this one if you know there are sore losers in attendance.
Divide everyone into teams with equal numbers of players, and give each team a jigsaw puzzle. The puzzles can be identical, or they can be similar, with about the same number of pieces and level of difficulty. Of course, if your teams are made of different age groups, be sure to give children easier puzzles.
Start a timer, and give everyone a set amount of time to complete the puzzle. The team that finishes their puzzle first wins. If no one finishes in the predetermined time, the team with the most complete puzzle wins. Prepare a prize table with inexpensive gifts and let the winners choose their rewards.
Don't forget the timer, especially if you selected devilishly difficult puzzles for the game. Otherwise, your reunion might last hours longer than you anticipated.
Family History Photo Swap
Of all the activities in this story, the family history photo swap takes the most preparation. The payoff, however, is tremendous for everyone involved. You'll learn many new details about your family in just a few hours, and the pictures add a visual impact that makes this game especially unforgettable.
In the weeks before the reunion, contact family members and ask them to gather up family pictures, both new and old. The pictures can be of relations, snapshots of homes or other special family locations. Have everyone label the back of the pictures with a pencil or sticker so that they can retrieve these once the reunion ends.
At the beginning of the reunion, affix sticky-note tabs to each image, along with a number; each picture receives a unique number. Then scatter the pictures randomly across several large tables.
Each player looks at the pictures. They guess the location or the person and write the number on the picture next to their notes.
Once everyone has made his or her guesses, picture owners gather their images. They then take turns presenting the images to the group, sharing the name of the person or the location in the picture, telling extra background details for fun. The winner of the game is the person who logged the most correct matches.
This game is low on competitiveness and won't appeal to younger children. However, it sparks great storytelling and lets each family member share a part of their lives unfamiliar to other relatives.
Water Balloon Toss
This game is perfect for those summer reunions when the temperature's soaring. It can include the whole family, and it's guaranteed to leave everyone laughing. The goal is simply to toss a water balloon from increasing distances without breaking it.
Start by dividing the family into teams of two. The possibilities are many: husband-and-wife teams, brother-and-sister duos, mother-and-daughter sets, or even random pairs. Form two parallel straight lines, with team members facing each other. All those in one line start with a water balloon, the squishier the better. The game is sometimes played with eggs, but water balloons are usually more fun and less messy.
To start, the lines are barely an arm's length apart. On a signal, each person tosses the balloon to his or her teammate. Nothing could be easier, right? But then each line takes a step backward. Players toss the balloon again. Another step back. As they get farther apart, the tension builds. Catching a balloon is an art form -- if you drop it, it breaks; if you catch it too firmly, it breaks. The chance of getting sprayed by a bursting balloon adds excitement and fun.
A team is out when its balloon bursts. The game continues until only one pair has an unbroken balloon. Be sure you pick up the balloons after it's over.
Who's the Baby?
With a little preparation, this can be an ideal game for families. In advance of the reunion, the organizer asks each adult family member to submit a photo of himself or herself as a baby or young child. They should also send along recent photos showing how they look now. Digital cameras, scanners and e-mail make collecting the pictures easier.
At the reunion, the game organizer sets up a board and attaches the photos in two columns labeled "Then" and "Now." He or she numbers the baby pictures and assigns letters to the recent pictures. Family members who want to play can study the pictures during the reunion. They try to match the baby with contemporary picture and record their answers on a form that they drop into a box.
After everyone has had a chance to participate, the organizer checks the answers and determines who has the most correct guesses. The actual match-ups are announced and the winner gets a prize.
The game is a great conversation starter. For some, the baby pictures will bring back loads of memories. Others might see the resemblance between a current young one and his grandfather as a baby. Kids can get involved, too. They love to look at pictures of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles as young people.
This is a classic game that many of us played as kids. With a family twist added, it makes a great pastime for a reunion. The game is also known as "Chinese Whispers" or "Broken Telephone." The idea is to see how much a sentence is distorted as it is whispered from one person to another to another. In the family version, a fact about a family member or about the family in general is the message that travels the "telephone."
All those who want to play sit in a circle of chairs. The first person whispers a short one-sentence fact about himself or herself to the next player. Or it could be something odd or interesting about another family member. "I shook hands with the mayor of Buffalo," or "Uncle Stan used to ride a motorcycle."
The person who hears the sentence whispers it to his or her neighbor. The rules say you can only whisper the sentence once. If the person doesn't understand, he or she passes on what he or she thinks you said. The message continues around the circle until it reaches the last person, who says the sentence out loud.
Of course, by the time it reaches the end, the message is usually altered or garbled. The final result can be very funny. "I took a bath there in the buff," or "Uncle Stan sued to find the icicle." The first person then explains what the original message was and maybe tells a story about the fact.
It's an easy game that encourages everyone to participate. It's fun, a great icebreaker, and it helps others learn things about family members.
Tug of War
Two sides try to pull the other across the center line. What could be simpler? The beauty of this game for family reunions is that it can be played over and over with different teams and combinations of players.
All you need is solid rope about 4 inches (10 centimeters) around. A narrow rope is hard to grip; some nylon ropes tend to stretch. The rope needs to be strong enough that it won't break. Use tape to mark the center of the rope, then put tape of another color at points 8 feet (2.4 meters) on each side of the center.
Dividing the family into teams is part of the fun. The battle of the sexes is a popular approach, with boys versus girls or uncles against aunts. It could be one branch of the family challenging another, or the adults going up against the young. The teams don't have to have the same number of players. To make for an even contest, pit players of equal strength against each other. Weight is also a factor to consider.
The play starts with the center of the rope over a line on the ground. The object is to pull until one of the pieces of tape on either side of the center mark crosses that line. The game can be more fun if the rope extends across a small stream, a puddle or a water sprinkler. Then the question is: Who'll get wet?
This is an ideal event to record on video. When it's over, players can go straight to the instant replay for more laughs.
This is a variation on the classic board game, Trivial Pursuit. For a reunion, you can do away with the formality of a board and play a free-form version.
Beforehand, the game organizer collects questions about the family and family lore. By quizzing family members, especially those with an interest in genealogy and family history, you can assemble a great store of interesting facts. Where did Grandpa serve during the war? What year were Uncle Pete and Aunt Milly married? What town in Poland was Great-grandpa Herman from? Which family member climbed Mount McKinley? Which branch of the family has the most kids in school? Who just graduated from Princeton?
Write the questions on 3-by-5-inch cards and put the answers on the back. Next, divide the questions into whatever categories make sense. You might have questions about "Ancestors," "Recent Events," "Love and Marriage" or "Wacky Relatives."
To play, divide into teams of two, three or four players. For each turn, a member of one team draws a card from a category and asks the question of the team whose turn it is. Move to a new category for each turn. Keep track of the number of right answers for each team to determine the winner.
The game is both fun and informative. Participants learn things they never knew about other family members and family history. Save the cards for future reunions and encourage relatives to add new ones.
Social missteps can ruin family reunions. Find out what behaviors are guaranteed to kill the fun.
- Better Homes and Gardens. "Family Games." (April 25, 2010)http://www.bhg.com/health-family/activities/games/
- Chinese-Whispers.com. "About Chinese Whispers." (Dec. 1, 2011) http://www.chinese-whispers.com/
- The Dollar Stretcher. "Family Reunion Fun part 2." (Dec. 1, 2011) http://www.stretcher.com/stories/980625c.cfm
- Evite. "Family Reunion Ideas." (April 25, 2010)http://www.evite.com/app/cms/ideas/family-reunion?_4
- Family-reunion.com. "Games for Your Family Reunion." (April 25, 2010)http://family-reunion.com/games.htm
- FamilyDetails.com. "More Family Reunion Games." (Dec. 1, 2011) http://www.familydetails.com/community/Family-Reunion-Guide/More-Family-Reunion-Games.aspx
- Reunions Magazine. "Reunion Games." (April 25, 2010)http://www.reunionsmag.com/familyreunions/family_games.html
- Tug of War International Federation. "Rules for International Competition." (Dec. 1, 2011) http://www.tug-o-war.asn.au/towrules.pdf