Christmas games for children were needed just as much, if not more, for Victorian parents than parents today. They, too, looked for something “special” to do for their children's parties but didn't have the luxury of places like Chucky Cheese or The Web Extreme Entertainment. (The Web I am speaking of is in West Chester, OH and is place where people go to play all kinds of electronic type games, bowling, putt-putt, etc.).
The following games were devised to keep the children active and have fun, too. They were published in a December issue of Harper's Bazaar in1899 and have been edited for use on this site.
Christmas is pre-eminently the children’s day and season. If it is kept
for them a time of unflagging mirth, the invention of their elders must
be taxed to the utmost to devise sufficient and varied forms of
amusement to fill the holidays. For all children’s parties given on
Christmas eve or Christmas day interest will centre in the tree, the
coming of Santa Claus, and for the very little people this great event
will be all-sufficient. But for the young men and women of more advanced
ages and ideas some other features must soon be introduced to replace
the departing mystery of the season, or its peculiar charm will begin to
Th amusements selected will usually take the form of games and dancing. These will be carefully arranged and directed by a committee of elders, who will at once institute a change at the first indication of flagging interest. It is pretty well understood by those who have had much experience in entertaining children that as guests they call for a much grater degree of tact and ingenuity on the part of a successful hostess than do their elders.
The first effort should
be to relieve self-consciousness, and for this reason those games are
best which demand general and not individual action, especially at
first. Once well en rapport with their
surroundings, the young guests will generally proceed to utilize in
their own fashion the facilities provided for their amusement, and it
will only be necessary to see that the supply is quite adequate to the
varying fancies, or that the game is kept moving. There will always be a
few quiet or extremely reticent children who refuse to take part in
romping games, or do so under protest. For these some card or guess
games, or other quiet diversion, should be at hand, and some one to play
with them. But if a suggestion does not suffice, it is best not to urge
them even into these games, but to permit them to remain lookers-on.
large rooms should be provided for the games. One of these should be
cleared as nearly as possible of furniture, and the other made
attractive with a profusion of Christmas decorations — holly, mistletoe,
bay, ivy, and laurel prevailing — and with cozy corners and green
bowers. A piano is placed near a door of this room, just inside. It is
well to begin the evening with a guess game, in which everybody takes
part. A game which fills this purpose admirable is called “Santa Claus’s
When all the guest are assembled in the first room, two boxes containing numbed cards are handed around, one to the girls, the other to the boys. Those drawing the same numbers will be partners in the march. All form in line, in the order of the numbers that they hold, and march to a lively strain through the next room in which there is a table holding the overturned contents of Santa Claus’s pack. They are told to look at every object on the table while passing through the room, the line of march will then be through halls and other rooms back to this room.
Now the company divides in half. The first half remains, while the others go out. The table and contents are covered in the mean time, and the music ceases. Some object which they can remember having seen on the table is chosen, and then some word which rhymes with the name of this is selected, and given by the doorkeeper to the other half. At a signal of a few bars from the piano this party enters, and having decided among themselves upon guess, the proceed to express this in pantomime, suggesting either the object or its use.
It is necessary for them to have agreed upon the
object which they will guess, so as to prevent confusion, but the mode
of suggesting this is left to the fancy of each child. If their guess is
plainly a wrong one, the others inform them by clapping of hands. Then
thy must go out for another trial.
However, to be sure that the mistake is on their part, and not a failure of the others to comprehend their signs, as soon as one of the “in party” believes he recognized the word which is meant, whether it is the right or a wrong one, he goes to the covered table, and selecting the object, holds it up. If he is wrong, the “out party” retire for another trial, but if right they remain still, unless informed by clapping of hands that they have guessed wrongly.
When a word has been acted out so that it is recognized, the roles change. The first to interpret correctly the sign, and signifying the fact by holding up the right object, receives a gilt button or ring, which is strong on a ribbon.
For each wrong guess of the same nature a silver ring is given, and these decide the winner and greatest loser of the game. Prizes may be given or not, at the hostess’s discretion. All is done by pantomime and by signal from the piano.
It is best to select for the “pack” familiar objects with simple names, which can be easily suggested, as a saw, train of cars, toy violin, story-book, etc. Any of the children’s toys can be made to do service, so that it will not be necessary for the hostess to buy toys for the purpose.
After this time some more active game will doubtless be acceptable, as “hiding the mistletoe.” In this the children form a line single file
and march about the room, or several rooms, until the music suddenly
stops. They then proceed to hunt for the mistletoe twig, which the
leader carried in his hand and concealed somewhere during the march. The
finder must effect a return to the house or starting-point, usually the
piano, without being touched by the leader.
Many of the ordinary sports, and
particularly kindergarten games, can by some slight changes be adapted
to the occasion. Much amusement may be had from attempts to harness
Santa Claus’s reindeer blindfolded, which will be by pinning together
pictures, as in the old-fashioned donkey party.
The little guests
by this time will be ready for refreshments, and while supper is in
progress the rooms can be prepared for the next games, or cleared for
dancing. Whenever possible, it is well to secure the services of a good
story-teller. When the guests leave the supper-room they will find him
in position, well removed from the noise of the music and dancing-hall.
Before the open fire is the best place, and this space can be devoted
for the remainder of the evening to stories, roasted apples, nuts, and
pop-corn for the amusement of those who do not care to take part in the
dancing, or who grow tired of it.
The best dances for the
occasion are a few cotillon figures, so selected and arranged that all
who wish can take part, whether they be expert dancers or not. In other
words, they will be games set to music which can but need not be danced.
A very pretty figure can be called “Santa Claus’s sleigh.’ Six little girls are harnessed by white ribbons to a tiny wicker or gilt sled, and the ribbons held by a seventh. Or the last may carry the sleigh, or simply a pretty basket, which is filled with small parcels in colored papers. These may contain Christmas crackers or any trifles as favors. The party goes around the room several times dispensing the favors to the young men, who proceed to select partners and dance, until a signal from the leader calls all to march around the room and back to their places.
The May-pole is another pretty and appropriate figure.
is to have a large white ball of tissue paper suspended well out of the
way bric-a-brac. The young girls take turns at shooting at this with a
small rubber ball. When hit with sufficient force it will break, and out
falls a shower of smaller white paper snowballs, which are gathered up
and presented as favors for the next marching figure or dancing.
As there should be only about one-half as many balls as there are couples dancing, this will cause a scramble among the boys, who gather them up, and who, for fair dealings, must be kept behind a certain line until the ball receives the shot that bursts it.
A number of pretty figures can be invented for the snowball. One is to begin with a march which leads them to form an irregular line or figure. At the signal there is a sudden halt, and one child, who has not been marching, throws the ball from across the room. The one who catches it selects a partner, who finishes the dance with him, and whose privilege it is to throw the ball next. The others dance with the ones nearest or opposite them. This figure can be repeated as long as it amuses.
These Christmas games for children could be played as is or, as many of us do not have large rooms, may have to be revised a bit. Also, the Victorian were known to plan grand parties even for the children. You may not want yours to be as grand but, I'm sure, with a bit of ingenuity, it will be just as wonderful!