Whether it’s an annual event or perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, a family reunion is a wonderful time to reconnect with relatives you don’t get to see as often as you’d like, particularly if grandchildren are involved. The good news is, if you are thinking of hosting a family gathering, you’re already in good position by starting early in the year and looking for ways to make it a festive gathering rather than an overwhelming task. You’ve made that first step to start planning early so that as the big day or big weekend approaches, you will have less to worry about and certainly a lot more to enjoy. Here are just a few helpful tips for planning an unforgettable family reunion.

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Start Planning Early!

Before you get too involved in planning for the big event, make a list of relatives you’d like to invite. Depending upon your ability to make things happen, your comfort zone and the number of guests you plan to invite, this should be done about four to six months in advance. After you’ve made the list, if you can’t pay for everything (and you shouldn’t), determine how much you would need from each person you invite. While you’re making cost estimates, allow for the possibility that some relatives may have to cancel at the last minute and what to do if there is an unexpected expense.

The easiest way to contact everyone is via email, which can also help you keep an organized listing of who you’ve contacted. Of course, there may be some relatives that always prefer at least a phone call and there may be some that don’t use electronic mail at all. Lastly, if you feel that the entire planning is beyond your capabilities, by all means reach out and find out if anyone else is willing to help. By having others help you organize the event, it will be that much easier for you.

Choose A Date Well In Advance

Once you have a general idea of how many people are interested in attending, you now have to choose a date. Most family reunions occur during the summer for a number of reasons, e.g. the weather tends to be nice and consistent, kids are out of school and it’s the time of year when many people take their vacations. Other possibilities might be over a three-day weekend but it’s important to realize rates for airfare, hotels and car rentals are all certain to be much higher over a big holiday. If one of your relatives has a birthday, maybe it’s a good time to have the family reunion in conjunction with that special occasion.

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Choose A Location

Choosing a location should come at or near the time you have chosen a date. If you’re only expecting a small gathering, the reunion could be held at someone’s home or in the backyard. But for most family reunions, you’ll need a larger space to accommodate all of the guests. Among the most popular choices are a park, resort hotel, a lakeside setting and if it’s practical for everyone, a beach or even an ocean cruise. If there are many kids expected for your family reunion, a resort hotel with a swimming pool and children’s activities would be a great choice as would a day at an amusement park.

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Send Out Invitations

Now that you’ve sorted out a date, location and the number of people who said they’d like to attend, it is time to send out invitations. As with your initial contact with everyone for the family reunion, you can email an invitation to those people who use electronic mail and traditional invites to those who prefer the postal service. When composing the invitation, it should include the date, time and length, address if applicable, contact person and RSVP information. Other items to consider in the invitation can be the cost of the event, what type of activities will be held and a reminder to bring a dish if it’s a potluck.

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Catered Food

If you plan on having a catering service provide food for your party, you must allow ample time to select a great provider and make reservations. You also may wish to have a professional photographer/videographer on hand. If this will be a truly festive occasion, perhaps you may also wish to consider a DJ to encourage family members and their loved ones to dance.

Other considerations include acquiring party favors, particularly if the reunion will have a special theme, such as a theme park family reunion, a genealogy tour, camping theme or an outdoor sports theme. Another possibility is to have t-shirts or some other type of clothing signifying the family reunion.

In the final weeks leading up to the big family event, you should reconnect with everyone who initially indicated they would be attending. This is also a good time to confirm reservations you may have from accommodations to professional services. By having everything completely organized, you stand to have a much better experience for yourself and the rest of your entire family.

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Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.