Why go through the extra work of planning a themed reunion?  Well, as exciting as it might be to go to a cookout at Uncle Vince’s every single year without fail, a themed reunion can stir up more interest and bring your group even closer together. Who knows? You might find out that your family and friends have unexpected skills and stories to tell.

Do’s and Don’ts for Themed Reunions

Great as themed reunions are, they can backfire.  To help you with your planning, we’ve put together this list of themed reunion do’s and don’ts:

  • DO choose a theme that most, if not all, of your group likes.
  • DO get a little carried away with creating the right atmosphere – it will boost the fun factor! Pay attention to your decorations, music, artwork and even your conversation.  References and inside jokes are definitely allowed here.
  • DON’T think that themed reunions have to be expensive, multi-day bashes.
  • DO use your imagination. Look at your theme from various points of view, and make sure it will be fun for all.
  • DO pick other people’s brains for memories and ideas. Even if they can’t pitch in on the actual planning, their input will be very valuable as you move forward.
  • DO create special items, such as t-shirts, for guests to keep when celebrating milestone reunions (i.e. 50th anniversary).
  • DON’T be afraid to choose a theme from a different category if it will work with your crowd.

So, let’s put our creative-genius hats on and consider 18 themes that can turn any reunion into a riveting good time!

Reunion Themes for Every Group

With a few obvious exceptions (little kids might find a murder-mystery-themed reunion scary or just plain boring), here are some reunion themes that work well with families, friends, former classmates and just about any group.

  • Historical Eras. Choose a time — Renaissance, Old West, 1920s — and have guests come in period-inspired clothes.  Don’t forget to include the food of the era in your menu, and bonus points if you can rustle up some period-correct entertainment.  Think a sing-a-long of popular music, “parlor games,” and even live readings of poetry or stories from the time.
  • Favorite TV Show or Movie. There are a couple of options for this theme.  Either have guests come as a character from their top movie or show, or use a screen favorite that’s high on everyone’s list.  You can even set a theme within a theme; if your group is big into sci-fi, have everyone dress up as their favorite Who or Star Trek character.  Give prizes for costumes, have trivia contests, and fangirl or fanboy to your heart’s content.
  • If you happen to have your reunion around the same time as a big event (Oscars, Tony Awards, Kentucky Derby, Stanley Cup Finals, etc.), use that as your theme. A Stanley Cup-themed reunion might feature team jerseys; poutine, doughnuts, and other frosty-weather fare on the menu; and a winner-take-all air hockey tournament.
  • You don’t have to be an amateur Agatha Christie to pull off a mystery-themed party.  You can simply buy story outlines or complete mystery party kits online and assign each attendee a part.  If your group is very large, assign parts to just a few actors and let everyone else try to guess whodunit.
  • Pioneer Days. Consider this the Historical Eras theme taken up a notch.  This is especially great if you have a big group and your reunion will last a few days, although it can of course fit any group or time frame.  Have activity stations that reflect what people did for fun (and to survive) during the westward expansion, and don’t forget about the costumes and authentic food.  For ideas, read any Laura Ingalls Wilder book.
  • This can be a simple as letting guests come in whatever suits their mood a la an English “fancy dress” party.  Or you can set a theme, like Venetian masked ball. There’s lots of leeway here, and this theme is ideal for shorter events or as the highlight of a long reunion weekend.
  • If you’ve got a big, fun-loving group gathering together, why not harken back to an old-time fair?  Have midway-style contests and food (funnel cakes, corn dogs and fresh French fries), and let stuffed animals stand in for the livestock judging contests.
  • Does your group never miss a minute of Amazing Race or Survivor?  Are they partial to that episode of The Office with the Office Olympics?  Planning a reunion around friendly competition is a great ice breaker as well as a whole lot of fun.  Your challenges can be as silly or as difficult as you like. For ideas, Google “minute to win it games” or “Family Olympics.”

Reunion Themes for Families

Families have a longer shared history than other groups, so reunion planners should feel free to use this rich background as a theme for a special reunion.

  • Family Roots/Family History. If you can, gather your family in a place that has significance.  (For example, the old family farm, if you’re lucky enough to have one.)  If this isn’t possible, use family history as your theme.  Have old photographs and mementos as decorations. Hint: you can scan the photos and print copies if you want to keep the originals out of harm’s way.  Tell family stories, interview grandparents and delve into what family really means.
  • If your family has a strong ethnic heritage, use it as an inspiration for your next reunion.  Decorate with pictures of the Old Country, serve regional dishes, play traditional music – even get into costume if the spirit moves you.
  • World Travels. Does your family enjoy seeing new places?  Celebrate this love with a world-travel-themed reunion.  Set up areas that showcase each major trip.  Swap stories and have family members bring dishes inspired by their favorite destinations.  Decorate with travel photos or vintage-looking posters, and use tablets or other devices to host mini-slideshows for each region.
  • Wedding Anniversary. Got a major anniversary coming up? Honor the couple in question and make their special achievement the theme of your reunion.  You don’t have to spring for a full-scale vow renewal, but you could re-create their reception dinner, complete with music.  Have family members share fun or touching stories about the guests of honor.
  • Family Olympics. Tailor the Competition challenge above to your family.  It doesn’t have to be all brawn and no brains; you could include a quiz event as well as lighthearted challenges.  Or go old school and draw on field day games like sack races, egg-and-spoon races, and prize dips. Above all, there must be medals.  Lots of medals.

Reunion Themes for High School/College Classes

Growing up and heading off to your first years of adulthood together give classmates a unique framework of memories.  Reunion planners often use these “good old days” as a springboard for themed parties.

  • Karaoke Contest/Talent Show. This can be a dual theme:  have a talent show or karaoke contest that pays homage to the years your group was in high school or college.  Comb Pinterest for decade-specific food items or search Google for “19xx’s reunion food.”  For music ideas, a quick search of “19xx music hits” will provide a playlist.
  • Back in Time. Recreate a certain point in history, whether it’s an important event (Apollo moon landing, Berlin Wall coming down) or your own senior prom. Use the same ideas for food and music as in the themed talent show above.

Special-Interest Reunion Themes

Whether your group is bound together by genetics or a shared interest in art, music or another special subject, these reunion themes will make the most of a strong bond.

  • Group Service. Use some or all of your reunion time to help others. Start by thinking about what special skills your group has (building trades, IT literacy, etc.) and who you would collectively like to help.  Your place of worship or community center may have projects you can join.  Or you can search for ideas online.  Keep in mind that this will likely require coordinating with a nonprofit, religious, community or other supervisory organization.  Hint: give yourself extra time to make this one happen.
  • Game Show Combo. This is the perfect way for guests to have fun, show off their knowledge and learn from others.  It’s ideal if you’re planning a reunion around a particular hobby like photography or knitting.  Draw inspiration from programs like Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and other game shows.  But don’t get too serious; be sure to include fun options that make plenty of opportunities to laugh.
  • Skills Contest. Consider this a specialized competition. You can combine this with the Game Show theme mentioned above.  Offer prizes that your special-interest group will find handy, and remember to sprinkle some less-serious more-smiles activities in with the technical stuff.

Is planning a themed reunion a bit of additional work?  No one will deny that.  But is it worth it?  We’d definitely say yes!  By using a theme to keep things fresh, you can boost the attendance (and the fun factor) of annual reunions.  And a theme makes a special reunion that much more memorable.  If you’re looking for a way to make your next reunion the best one yet, consider making it a themed reunion.