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Plan­ning a fam­i­ly reunion this year isn’t easy, as we all strug­gle to find safe ways to see loved ones. Our fam­i­ly has had to get cre­ative with host­ing out­door grand­par­ent vis­its. There’s even talk of a back porch Christ­mas tree. 

When mak­ing plans to get togeth­er, it’s impor­tant to lis­ten to the experts — in some areas, health offi­cials are rec­om­mend­ing fam­i­lies not gath­er at all. But if, and when, it’s safe for you to meet, here are a few ideas for plan­ning a safer, more thought­ful fam­i­ly reunion.




Keep It Simple


This might not be the year for that giant reunion with dozens of fam­i­ly mem­bers. In addi­tion to being safer, small gath­er­ings have the advan­tage of more one-on-one time with each per­son. Is there some­thing you’ve always want­ed to do or a place you’ve always want­ed to vis­it, but it would­n’t work with the whole crew? This might be the right time for that vaca­tion idea! 


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Pad­dle boats are the ulti­mate social dis­tanc­ing activ­i­ty. They kept our fam­i­ly mem­bers six feet apart, even when my kids tried their best to crash into every­one else’s boats. Pho­to by Josie McCamish.



Find Your Own Space


Many peo­ple may con­sid­er shar­ing indoor air a no-go when it comes to avoid­ing germs, and wear­ing masks 24/7 with your loved ones would be a bum­mer too, so look for sep­a­rate accom­mo­da­tions when plan­ning your reunion.

We recent­ly met up with my par­ents at a love­ly state park and booked neigh­bor­ing cab­ins for our stay. We each had our own indoor space, and we head­ed out­doors to vis­it and chat while the kids made leaf piles near­by. A friend told me she met her extend­ed fam­i­ly at the beach after find­ing two rental hous­es next door to each oth­er; they met out­side each day to play in the waves. 

Rent­ing an RV gives you the ulti­mate flex­i­bil­i­ty in fam­i­ly gath­er­ings. If every­one else insists on stay­ing at Aunt Petu­ni­a’s and you hate to miss the fun, you can camp in the RV and join in on out­door meals and activ­i­ties. No RV but ready for adven­ture? Bring your tent!



For our recent fam­i­ly gath­er­ing, indi­vid­ual cab­ins pro­vid­ed room for every­one to spread out. We met out­side for s’mores, hik­ing, and con­ver­sa­tion. Pho­to by Paul Nichol­son.



Play Outside


A sil­ver lin­ing of this year is the encour­age­ment to stay out­doors. Make a list of safe, social­ly dis­tanced activ­i­ties for the whole fam­i­ly to enjoy out­side. We rent­ed pad­dle boats on our state park vaca­tion; with mem­bers of the same house­hold sit­ting togeth­er, we eas­i­ly kept that impor­tant six-foot dis­tance between boats. A bon­fire with s’mores and fam­i­ly sto­ries allowed every­one to chat and con­nect with plen­ty of dis­tance between chairs.

Some tra­di­tion­al activ­i­ties can be rein­vent­ed to be more germ-free. My boys have devel­oped a soc­cer game where each fam­i­ly team must stay on their side of the field, kick­ing the ball long dis­tances instead of hus­tling for the ball togeth­er. The kids’ grand­par­ents gave each grand­child their own copy of pop­u­lar board games so they could mir­ror the play and facil­i­tate dis­tance play­ing. Bat­tle­ship is an easy game to play six feet apart, but we’ve also played Tick­et to Ride while dupli­cat­ing the board on two sep­a­rate tables. (Bonus: this also works over Face­Time and Zoom!).



Bat­tle­ship is the per­fect game to play across the patio. (Beware: Nine-year-olds are known to be board game sharks.) Pho­to by Christy Nicholson.


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Prepare for the Weather


Of course, the main issue with out­door reunions is the unpre­dictabil­i­ty of weath­er. What­ev­er you plan, have options in case of rain. You don’t want to dri­ve sev­en hours and then nev­er actu­al­ly see fam­i­ly because you’re stuck in sep­a­rate hous­es all day. Before our state park trip, I researched vaca­tion options to find cab­ins with screened-in porch­es. This ensured we could meet and vis­it even in the rain, with the screens pro­vid­ing plen­ty of ven­ti­la­tion. A large pic­nic pavil­ion is a great choice for dis­tanc­ing between big­ger households. 

Aside from the rain, cold is anoth­er threat to out­door gath­er­ings. But nev­er fear — you know those out­door heaters restau­rants use on their patios? They can bring warmth to your gath­er­ing as well! And don’t for­get the pow­er of lay­ers. As a south­ern girl, I nev­er under­stood the appeal of long under­wear until I spent hours wan­der­ing around Ger­man cities dur­ing win­ter.


Dress warm­ly, and you can enjoy fam­i­ly time with­out fear­ing the cold. 



A gor­geous view, a pri­vate boat dock, and giant leaf piles made our fam­i­ly trip to Pen­nyrile For­est State Resort Park feel extra spe­cial. Pho­to by Christy Nicholson.


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Figure Out Food


The food. For many of us, it’s the best part of fam­i­ly reunions, but in the time of coro­n­avirus, it’s prob­lem­at­ic. While cur­rent stud­ies haven’t shown COVID trans­mis­sion through food, there’s con­cern about gath­er­ing close­ly in a buf­fet line or hav­ing serv­ing uten­sils touched by mul­ti­ple fam­i­ly members. 

The safer bets are to skip the meal and focus on vis­it­ing, or for each house­hold to bring their own food. But if you sim­ply must have some of Grand­ma’s cake or Uncle Ron’s bar­beque, con­sid­er hav­ing just one per­son cut or dip indi­vid­ual serv­ings and fill plates. If you’re the one prepar­ing or serv­ing food, con­sid­er wear­ing a mask and gloves for extra cau­tion and peace of mind. 



Avoid the buf­fet table by find­ing a local restau­rant to pre­pare indi­vid­ual meals for each fam­i­ly mem­ber. Pho­to by Christy Nicholson.





Make a Back-Up Plan


Despite our best efforts, some­times things just don’t work out. (Trust the girl who was quar­an­tined at home two weeks before Thanks­giv­ing. Lucky for me, our COVID tests were neg­a­tive and our out­door cel­e­bra­tion went on as planned.) Keep a back­up plan handy in case of the unex­pect­ed. If your reunion gets can­celed or you find your­self stuck at home, try to eat togeth­er over Zoom, share recipes via email, or gath­er vir­tu­al­ly in Minecraft or Ani­mal Cross­ing (at least your kids will love it!).

While we know this year is dif­fer­ent from all the oth­ers, our fam­i­lies will look to us for how we deal with the change. We can com­plain and gripe, or we can use it as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to find new ways to have fun. I know which I’ll choose. 


Christy Nichol­son is a writer, edi­tor, and recov­er­ing per­fec­tion­ist from Nashville, Ten­nessee. When not trav­el­ing with fam­i­ly, she enjoys cozy days at home read­ing, gar­den­ing, mak­ing music, and wran­gling two awe­some kids. Christy writes at Any-Worth.com about trav­el and sus­tain­able living. 





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