In The Parlor

By Paul R. Huard

September 12, 2008 4 min read


Victorian games can help bring holiday cheer for everyone

Paul R. Huard

Creators News Service

If you want an old-fashioned Christmas full of fun and games, consider a little time travel. It's easier than you think, costs nothing and can involve the entire family.

It's not found in science fiction, but rather in playing parlor games. Once the standard entertainment in a world before electronics, these games involved the entire group of family and friends gathered for any special event. Many of the games originated in the late 19th and early 20th century, commonly referred to as the Victorian Era.

Since the Victorians invented many of the Christmas customs we know today, playing their games are a natural during the time of holly and mistletoe.

"For today's younger generation, playing video games and watching television in the family room are common holiday activities," said Anita Walker, director of cultural affairs for the Iowa State Historical Museum, which sponsors re-enactments of Victorian cultural life. "But children living during the Victorian era did not have video games, televisions or family rooms. They had parlor games and parlors. The games are real eye-openers for both children and adults, who are often very surprised at how enjoyable they are."

For game winners, you could have small treats such as homemade cookies or small packages of stationery as prizes. Keep plenty of snacks and hot cocoa on hand as well: It will help promote good will and cheery attitudes.

Try some of these games for a taste of fun that you could share with all of your family and friends. They are found in the book "Victorian Parlor Games" by Patrick Beaver.

The Minister's Cat: Here's the game that stretched the imaginations of generations of adults and kids alike.

Have all the players sit in a circle. The idea is to have the first player describe the minister's mythical cat with any adjective that starts with the letter "a." (For example, "The minister's cat is an agile cat.") The next player in the circle must also use the letter "a" to come up with a new adjective and so on all the way around the circle. Anyone who can't come up with a new adjective or repeats one that was already used is out of the game.

When you come full circle, start again with an adjective that begins with the letter "b." See if you can work your way throughout the entire alphabet to describe the minister's cat.

Hot Boiled Beans: This is the grandfather of search games and the source of telling someone that they are "cold," "warm" or "hot" when looking for something hidden.

Designate a player as "it" and send him or her out of the room. Hide a small article within the room or somewhere nearby in the house. Call out to the player "Hot boiled beans and bacon for supper! Hurry up before it gets cold." The player then returns to the room and attempts to find the missing item. Everyone else shouts out that his "supper" is growing "freezing," "warm," "warmer," and "boiling hot" as the player gets closer or farther away from the hidden item. You can set a time limit for each player if you want.

The Laughing Game: A misconception about the Victorians is they did not have a sense of humor. As the following game shows, this was not the case.

Have all players sit in a circle. One player starts the game by saying "Ha!" The next player says "Ha, Ha!" and then third player says "Ha, Ha, Ha!" and so on. None of the players (including the players "laughing") can laugh or smile; they must play the game straight-faced. Anyone who smiles, laughs, or even smirks is out of the game.

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