The Origin of Holiday Traditions and Games

Many cultures throughout the world have celebrated midwinter or the winter solstice with their own set of traditions. Most share the themes of family, community, giving, food, and celebration. Due to the cold, indoor activities and games are particularly popular during the winter holidays. Let’s look at some of the history and legends of customs both new and old. Consider this for some inspiration for your own family traditions.

black and white old photo of a man in front of an ornate old fireplace with vintage stockings hanging on the mantle.

Christmas Archery

In the 1400s, playing sports and games were commonly played in England. Archery was an especially popular pastime among men. King Henry VIII tried to ban all sports and games with the Unlawful Games Act with the exception of archery as the game was considered important to upkeep the country’s defenses. While archery still persists, an indoor alternative can be playing darts with friends.

Early Christmas History in America

The first Americans were Puritans who didn’t observe Christmas due to the associations with pagan festivals such as Saturnalia. Christmas wasn’t celebrated in colonial America and wasn’t even considered a federal holiday until 1820. In fact, from 1659 to 1681, celebrating Christmas was outlawed in the city of Boston. It’s pretty incredible to think that the earliest Americans has more in common with The Grinch!

vintage black and white photo of three people celebrating with confetti and blowing festive horns

Bringing Joy Back to the Christmas Season

Other countries, especially Germany, continued to celebrate Christmas. Things changed in England and the United States during the Victorian era when Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert began putting up a christmas tree in Buckingham Palace. The British public began to copy the Royal Family and Charles Dickens’ story The Christmas Carol brought the spirit of giving and charity forward as the main themes for the holiday.

In Victorian England, it was common for adults to play parlor games at Christmas parties. Some will sound familiar to us such as Blind Man’s Bluff or Questions and Commands (a version of Truth and Dare). Charades was another popular game played during Christmas that we still play today throughout the year.

Other Christmas games are far too dangerous for us to bring into present day. A popular game was Snapdragon where fruit such as raisins and apples were put in a bowl full of brandy. People would then turn off the lights and set the bowl on fire. Someone was actually expected to drink the contents without burning themselves or someone else. I think we’ll just stick with billiards and card games, thanks.

Reimagining Santa Claus

Clement Clarke Moore’s poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ is what we know today as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with the images of his sleigh and reindeer, but an earlier legend of St. Nicholas began the custom of Christmas stockings as he saw a poor family and snuck into their house to leave gold coins into their socks while they dried by the fire. This shaped our understanding of Santa Claus in America and he continued to evolve into themes of family and togetherness.

The American custom of leaving milk and cookies for Santa started during the Great Depression to teach their kids that they still had to be considerate of others and show gratitude for the blessings in their lives even during the hardest times. The color red wasn’t even associated with Christmas until we changed the aesthetic of Santa in the late 1800s and early 1900s due to stories and Coca Cola advertisements.

Christmas Throughout the World

Before Christmas in Mexico, communities reenact Mary and Joseph searching for room at the inn. Children try to break a piñata filled with toys and candy. In the southern hemisphere, Christmas is warm due to the summer season which shapes the customs and traditions. In Brazil, the Christmas festival would look similarly to our 4th of July celebrations with picnics and fireworks. Santa is often pictured in Australia with his famous red hat and red swimming trunks.

What traditions does your family have? Are there special games you play or bring out just for special occasions or on Christmas Eve? Do you load up your jukebox with classic Christmas carols? If you’re looking for last minute stocking stuffers or accessories, check out what we have in stock here. From our family to yours, we wish everyone a happy holiday. Thanks for trusting us for your gaming needs.


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