Victorian Christmas games
Victorian Christmas games: The Victorians made Christmas a festival for the family and children, and any gathering was a good excuse to play parlour games. Our guide to Victorian Christmas parlour games should keep your clan educated and entertained.
If we temporarily forget about saturnalia and winter celebrations from way back, the Victorians invented most of our Christmas traditions – which is a shorthand way of saying that they formalised and popularised the traditions we associate with Christmas today – the tree, the Christmas cards, the presents and even the Christmas pudding. Even Charles Dickens made a genuine difference to the shape of our contemporary Christmas – honestly, that man gets everywhere.
The Victorians were hugely fond of entertainment and novelty, and as such they made sure they had a wealth of Christmas games to hand that one could play with one’s family in the parlour. So… imagine, if you will, you are seated around a tiny toy theatre. The cardboard curtain goes up… Let the games begin!
How? What? Where? When?
1. One player needs to think of the name of an object. Tip: Make it more difficult by thinking of a word with multiple meanings, like male (masculine), mail (letters) and mail (armour).
2. The other players try to discover what it is by asking (only once) the following four questions:
- How do you like it?
- Why do you like it?
- When do you like it?
- Where do you like it?
3. Player 1 must answer the questions truthfully. Alternate between the meanings as appropriate for each question.
4. The person who guesses correctly wins, and then takes the role of Player 1.
This is a classic Victorian game with which most people are quite familiar. To play a Victorian-friendly version, consider leaving out the option for it being a movie. “Is it a book?” “Yes. We’re Victorian. It’s always a book.”
The host shows everyone a little knick-knack in the room. All the guests are to leave while the host hides it. When they return, everyone is to look for the item until they spot it. They are then to sit down. The last one to find it loses (or has to be “it”). It makes it a bit more difficult if guests continue to mill for a few seconds before they sit down.
1. All players sit in a circle
2. Each player takes it in turns to say “Ha”, “Ho” or “Hee”.
3. The first player to start laughing loses and is out of the game.
4. Continue until everyone is out of the game.
5. The person who manages not to laugh for the longest is the winner and deserves a prize of their own peacock in a giant gilded cage for putting up with such an interminably silly game.
1. Choose one player to be The Sculptor.
2. All other players stand in a still position.
3. The Sculptor must then move the other players into strange poses that are difficult to hold.
4. The other players must not laugh, break pose or move.
5. The Sculptor can distract the other players and encourage them to laugh, but they must not touch them.
6. The first player to move or laugh, loses and becomes The Sculptor.
Each person needs paper and a pen or pencil. You need at least one dictionary to play this game. Each person uses the dictionary in turn to look up a word (hopefully one unknown to most people) and writes down the real definition (in simplified form) and then makes up two or three others. The word and the definitions are read to the rest of the players and each has to guess which deifinition they believe is the correct one. The player gets points for each person he/she fools. The dictionary makes as many arounds as you would like, and the player with the most points at the end wins.
a. a person who practices rituals
b. a person who likes to be alone
c. a person who sleepwalks
d. a person who is solemn and serious
You’re Never Fully Dressed without a Smile
One person is selected to be “it.” That person is the only one in the group who is allowed to smile. They can do anything they want to try and get someone to smile. If the person smiles, they become ‘it’ in turn. The person who never smiles is declared the winner.
Have everyone write a general topic of conversation down on a slip of paper, along with a letter of the alphabet. Pick two or three people at a time to play the game. Have them pick a topic out of a hat or basket. They then must start a conversation with one another regarding the topic. The catch is that they have to begin each sentence with a letter of the alphabet, beginning with the letter written in the slip of paper. Another, better catch is they have to form each sentence in a Victorian style. They must follow the conversation through the alphabet, ending back with letter in which they started.
Player 1 – “Hullo sister, I have to go to the market for Christmas baubles and sundries. Would you do me the honour of accompanying me?”
Player 2 – “I’d love to, Lisbeth, but my pockets are threadbare.”
Player 3 – “Just stop being a duffin and attend the market with me – there’ll be such gaiety today, and I shall be bored and vexed if you do not!”
Player 1 – “Katharine – Miss Katherine, that is, Miss Grimsby, I mean – said to her papa, I overheard her, that is, that she would be accompanying him to the fish stall this morning. Maybe I should venture out with you – it is such a bright crisp morning, after all…”
Player 2 – “Last time she was twenty minutes late, the silly chit! I know, for I was also waiting for her radiant form to appear…” (Note: you may need to do your homework for the definition of ‘chit’)
Player 3 – “Mayhaps she’ll make better haste if we buy a nosegay – or would that be too forward? What think you, sister?”
And so on until they arrive back at H to finish. You can either time them and cut them off at 60 seconds. The go on to another group and see who gets the farthest in 60 seconds, or you can let them finish the alphabet and see which group finishes their topic and alphabet in the fastest amount of time.
One person is blindfolded, and all other guests scatter around the room. When the blindfoled person catches someone, they then have to tell who it is they have captured or the prisoner is then freed and the blindman must continue their pursuit until they can identify the person caught. The blindfold then changes hands.
You may wish to consider an alternative name for this game – one with no ableist connetations. The Victorians did not consider such things.
This is a variation on a Victorian game, but as a warning to those attempting this one, clear the room of precious and fragile items. It can get a little frenetic and moxious!
All but one person sits in a chair. The person in the middle asks someone in the circle “Do you love your neighbour?”
The person selected then has to state either “No.” If this is the case, the people in the chairs on each side of them have to change seats QUICKLY. If they aren’t quick enough, the person in the middle may slip into one of the vacated seats, making the unseated neighbour “it”.
The chosen person may instead answer, “Yes, I love my neighbour, except those who (fill in the blank… e.g. are wearing blue, or have brown hair, or play video games, etc) Everyone who fits the description has to jump up and change seats, while the person in the middle tries to steal one. The person left standing has to ask another person if they love their neighbour, beginning a new round.
Pass the Slipper
You take an object, the “slipper.” Pick a person and put them in the centre of the circle. They must close their eyes while the “slipper” is passed from person to person behind their backs. When the centre person opens their eyes, the passing immediately stops and they must hazard a guess as to who holds the “slipper.” If they are correct, they trade places. If wrong, the eyes are closed and the passing begins again.
One person is chosen to leave the room. All the other guests must “forfeit” a special item that belongs to them. All these items are placed in the centre of the room and then the “auctioneer” is brought back in. They pick up an item and tries to describe it as one would an item about to be sold.
In order not to forfeit the item, the owner must confess and do something amusing to win the item back.
The Name Game
Provide each guest with 10 small pieces of paper, and a pen or pencil. Ask them to write down the names of 10 famous people, leaders, movie stars, authors, sports figures, politicians, artists, inventors, scientists, etc. Encourage them not to make it too easy!
Fold the papers, and put them into a hat, bowl, or basket. Seat guests in a large circle. Each round is limited to 30 seconds, so have a watch with a second hand available.
Player One pulls out a name, and tries to get the person beside them to guess the name by giving clues, but never actually saying the name or what it starts with. Gestures are also not allowed.
After the name is guessed, the clue giver can continue pulling names out of the hat until their time is up. The guesser gets to keep their pieces of paper, and the clue giver gets credit also.
The bowl is then passed to the next person and the clue giver now becomes the guesser and there is a new clue giver.
The bowl proceeds around the circle until everyone has guessed and everyone has given clues. The one with the most guesses correct wins.
Example: Name – Abraham Lincoln. Clues: He lived in a log cabin. He was president during the Civil War. His wife’s name was Mary Todd. He wore a stove pipe hat and had a beard. He was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.
I’m thinking of something
One person picks a person, or a thing, and commits it to memory (Stonehenge, the ocean, an item in the room). They do not tell what this item is but they say, for example, “I’m thinking of something large.”
The guests are then allowed to ask yes or no questions. “Is it a building?” “No” “Is it an animal” “No.” “Is it a monument?” “Yes.” “Is it in Europe?” “No” and so on until one person guesses the item correctly.
If the person guesses incorrectly the game still ends and the wrong person must chose a new something. Players should never guess until they are completely sure they know the answer.
Whoever guesses correctly gets to choose the next something. As with the very similar games Twenty Questions or Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, it’s better to set a limit of twenty questions that the guest can ask before the person who knows the answer has won.
Similes is an amusing Victorian parlour game to play at Christmas (especially if you get the answer wilfully wrong). A simile is a figure of speech that compares to unlike things using ‘like’ or ‘a’s. One of the most famous come from Robert Burns, who wrote “My love is like a red, red rose.”
To play this game, you need a list of similes and a group of people. One person, we’ll call them the “professor”, goes around the room and picks people. The “professor” picks one person and begins a simile “Love is like a……” the player must finish the simile by stating….”rose.” If the player finishes the simile incorrectly, the “professor” thanks them but gives them the correct ending and moves on.
The “professor” should be fairly well versed in well-known similes so as to be able to accept variations or answers that are close (or, even better, highly creative!)
Name the Nursery Rhyme
How Well Do You Know Your Nursery Rhymes? Using a list of lines from nursery rhymes, do your best to guess the title (usually the first line) of the nursery rhyme.
Example: What! Lost your mittens? Answer: Three Little Kittens