How to Throw a Southern Family Reunion

If you want to experience a true slice of the Southern culture, pour a glass of tea and plan your next get together.

Patricia S. York
Southern Family Reunion
Russell Lee

While we acknowledge that reunions take place in every part of the country, Southerners claim bragging rights to doing it better than anyone else. Perhaps it's because we use any excuse to lay out a spread, put on a pot of coffee, and gather with loved ones to catch up and tell stories – birthday parties, graduations, or a service member returning home.

None of these impromptu reunions compare, however, to the Annual Family Reunion, usually held on the same day each year at the same place. The cast of characters changes year to year, for some family members will have passed away and some new ones added, either by birth or marriage. Some reunions are large, heavily organized, and span a three-day weekend, while smaller families meet for a quiet meal and a few well-spent hours. Regardless of the size of the group or the length of the event, there are a few recurring elements that are necessary for a Southern Family Reunion. These must-have family reunion ideas will help you start planning a family reunion of your own in true Southern style.

Sense of Place

Reunions, frequently referred to as Homecomings, summon sons and daughters back to the old home place, back to the place that holds poignant memories from childhood, oftentimes a grandparent’s home. A reunion sometimes is held at the family church in the country, and the day is not complete without a walk through the cemetery to pay respects to loved ones who are attending the reunion in spirit only. Wherever the family is gathered, however, be it the old home place or a state park, a Southerner is home.

Good Food, Really Good Food

Family Reunion Food

Southerners are world famous for their ability and their love to cook for a crowd. That gift is never more evident than at family reunions, where tables buckle and groan under the weight of browned-and-bubbly casseroles, succulent, spiced hams, and rich desserts specifically designed to destroy a diet. Many recipes represent a tie to the past or a particular person. You and a sweet cousin may have always grabbed a bowl of her mom's cobbler and sat together under a tree, giggling about who-knows-what. You thought your mom’s banana pudding was the best ever, and you remember how proud you were when others agreed with your assessment. The evocative smells and tastes of reunion food will always remind us of particular people we would love to see again and places we would like to visit just once more. Consider your favorite tastes of home when compiling new family runion ideas for really good food. You just might start a new tradition for your family reunions for years to come.

Music Making and Story Telling

There are many, many, theories as to why the South has produced such a multitude of fine storytellers and musicians, and the exploring of those theories belong in another article. Suffice it to say that when two or more Southerners are gathered, there is usually a guitar or piano waiting to be played, or a story waiting to be told. At a reunion, after the last desserts have been consumed and the dishes cleared away, guests instinctively form their chairs in a big circle under the shade tree. Someone produces a guitar and softly starts strumming and singing a favorite old tune. A few others join in and, when the song is over, someone remarks that “Big John sure did like that song, remember when he had that ole dog…” And the stories commence.