Games People Played.

Actual Christmas Parlor Games Of The 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries:

The Ribbon

Everyone would be given a piece of string or ribbon to hold while one person in the middle of the room would hold the other end of all the strings or ribbons. The person in the middle would then say either “pull” or “let go”. When asked to “pull” all the players would have to let go of their strings. When asked to “let go” they would have to pull. Players who got the commands reversed would have to pay some sort of penalty, because it’s not the holidays without strings attached.

Shoe The Wild Mare

Players would have to straddle a wooden swing high enough that their feet would be off the ground and hit the bottom of the swing with a hammer and hopefully not fall off. Players who lost would have to pay some sort of penalty—usually a broken arm.

Jacob! Where Are You?

A version of Blind Man’s Bluff this game involves a blindfolded player who calls out, “Jacob! Where are you?” while chasing another player with a bell. If the bell ringer is caught the players trade places, which makes it a hilarious game for two people and a chance for everyone else to just wander around and drink.

The Toilette

One person would take the role of Lord or Lady. Everyone else would select or be assigned a toiletry item—a comb, a brush, a mirror, etc. When the Lord or Lady called for an item the corresponding person would have to answer. Or the Lord or Lady could call “All toilette!” and everyone would have to jump up and change seats. Each person would take the item of the previous seat holder. Playing this today would be a chance to assign Uncle Jerry the nose hair trimmer and maybe he’d get the hint to use the one you gave him last year because his nostrils look like they’ve been stuffed with porcupines.

The Doctor

One person chosen to be “The Doctor” would go around the room and each person would have to feign an illness. The Doctor would then prescribe the most ridiculous treatments he or she could think of. After going around the room the Doctor would then go back and ask each person what they’d been prescribed.

Hot Cockles

In this version of Blind Man’s Bluff a person would be blindfolded then hit and would have to guess who hit them. This game was a great opportunity to get into the Christmas spirit by taking revenge on someone for something they did back in July.

Steal The White Loaf

A person would sit at a table facing away from a piece of bread or cake and other people would try to grab it without being identified, which seems to be a common theme in Christmas parlor games and maybe how the whole “Secret Santa” thing got started.


A large dish of raisins would be doused with brandy and set on fire because it just wouldn’t be Christmas without flames. The idea of this game was that everyone would take turns reaching in and grabbing a raisin from the dish. The winner would be the one with the most raisins who didn’t need medical treatment or set anything else on fire. To this day, though, more people have been sent to the hospital by family games of Monopoly.

Source: Tenor

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  1. markbialczak

    I’m glad I don’t get talked into playing any sort of traditional games that have morphed from these beauties, Christopher. Wow.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I think we’re all lucky these games haven’t survived, Mark. Not even “Blind Man’s Buff” which had innumerable variations, isn’t, as far as I know, played widely, but I’ve seen quite a bit of destruction and bodily harm come out of holiday games of Monopoly and Dirty Santa.

  2. BarbaraM

    It’s a wonder society has survived this long if our ancestors were that moronic.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Oh, I think each age manages to be moronic in its own way, and I suspect variations of Snapdragon survive to this day, at least among kids. So I try not to be too judgmental, keeping in mind people had to find ways to entertain themselves before television.


    Chris! Where are you? I hope you’re not playing Snapdragon.
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    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Snapdragon sounds like a game we would have played back when I went camping regularly, but I’m too slow to consider it now, never mind not wanting to start a fire in the house.


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