What do you send to a family reunion…when you're not part of the family?
One of my very best friends is having a family reunion at his home in June. I would like to send an appropriate gift for him and his wife, or a gift that the entire reunion clan could enjoy. Wine and spirits are also an option. Thanks for your suggestions!
From the sound of your letter, I'm guessing that you are not actually going to be in attendance at the reunion due to your status as a friend and not a family member. If I'm understanding that correctly, it's incredibly generous of you to consider sending a gift to a party to which you were not invited. I've answered a lot of questions about gift-giving, but this is a new scenario.
My first reaction is to say that this gesture is entirely unnecessary. In other circumstances, say, a birthday party, sending a gift to hosts who did not invite you to their party might be cause the hosts guilt, thinking that you expected to be included. They might be embarrassed or feel bad and may be unsure how to respond to your unanticipated kindness, particularly when you were simultaneously being excluded. However, since you say this is a very close friend, I'm going to assume that you know the people involved and that you will properly communicate the intentions underlying the gift-giving.
Wine and spirits are always a popular gift for hosts. Depending on how many people are involved in the reunion, if you want your gift to be shared by everyone, you might need to send a larger amount than you would bring to an ordinary Shabbat dinner or more intimate occasion. A case of beer could also be a more laid-back way to contribute to the festivities, and if you live near a local craft brewery or have some other local spirits that your area is known for, that could be a way to send good wishes from afar with a more personal touch. Similarly, locally-made candies, specialty coffees or other treats could be enjoyed by a crowd and be distinctly from you. With any food gift, just be sure that you keep the families' kashrut level in mind and that you provide a list of ingredients in case anyone has any allergies. A fruit basket is another nice food option that doesn't require as much concern about dietary restrictions.
Another option is to send something to the hosts that can be used during the reunion but also for other events in the future. Some options include personalized hand towels, beautiful soaps, a new serving tray or a cookbook. I also love giving plants as gifts, so you could send a flower arrangement that would last through the weekend or a living plant that can stay either indoors or, depending on where they live, transferred to a garden.
If you actually are invited, any of these gifts are still appropriate either to send in advance or to bring with you, but you should include a card that says something along the lines of, "Thank you for making me feel like I am part of the family." Finally, your letter is a great reminder that thoughtfulness and generosity may not always take the form you expect. If you want to give a gift for an unexpected occasion, do so with the recipients' interests and circumstances in mind. If you receive a gift from someone who's not coming to your party or at some other unanticipated time, be gracious and thankful, and use the gift in good health.