Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Have a Very Victorian Christmas: 19th-Century Party Games

'For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.’

The scene Ebenezer Scrooge witnesses at his nephew Fred’s in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843), under the direction of the Ghost of Christmas Present, is the very picture of festive cheer – laughter, drinking and music. And a vital part of this vision of ‘merriment’, as much as the requisite Christmas Party flirting, is the communal game-playing which is a central part of the Victorian family Christmas.

The muppets' take on the Christmas party scene
These games need little equipment and are universally appealing, even to Scrooge who joins in the fun in spite of himself:

‘There might have been twenty people there, young and old, but they all played, and so did Scrooge; for wholly forgetting in the interest he had in what was going on, that his voice made no sound in their ears, he sometimes came out with his guess quite loud, and very often guessed quite right, too.’

So, this holiday season, why not sample some Dickensian inspiration, turn off the TV and step away from the Monopoly board? Here’s my guide to the games Scrooge yearns to be part of and you can easily replicate at home. 

1. Blind-Man’s Buff: Grab a makeshift blindfold and let the games begin as the player deprived of his/her sight tries to catch his/her assailants. Beware obstacles and injury, but prepare too for the sexual tension to rise a notch. Even in the nineteenth century, games involving blindfolding had a suggestive edge. In A Christmas Carol, cornering a victim while blindfolded is a licence for misbehaviour:

‘When at last, he caught her; when, in spite of all her silken rustlings, and her rapid flutterings past him, he got her into a corner whence there was no escape; then his conduct was the most execrable. For his pretending not to know her; his pretending that it was necessary to touch her head-dress, and further to assure himself of her identity by pressing a certain ring upon her finger, and a certain chain about her neck; was vile, monstrous! No doubt she told him her opinion of it, when, another blind-man being in office, they were so very confidential together, behind the curtains.’

Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Vixen (1879), which I’ve written on before, also features a sequence in which her hero and heroine find themselves in a stolen embrace thanks to a game of blind-man’s buff. 

2. Forfeits: Scrooge’s niece participates in this game – one less boisterous than blind-man’s buff but potentially equally revealing. The game has several versions but involves sending a ‘judge’ from the room while players place a small personal item in a box. The judge returns, assesses the objects and guesses the owners. If his guess is incorrect the item is returned, if correct, the owner must perform a forfeit of the judge’s choice to win it back. 

3. Yes and No: A player assumes a persona, the rest of the party ask him questions which can be answered either with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to uncover his or her identity. In A Christmas Carol Fred chooses ‘an animal, a live animal, rather a disagreeable animal, a savage animal, an animal that growled and grunted sometimes, and talked sometimes, and lived in London, and walked about in the streets’. Finding that the creature described is in fact himself changes Ebenezer Scrooge profoundly, helping him to find true festive cheer, but playing the game with your own family can be more immediately enjoyable and merry.

Do you have any plans for a Victorian-inspired Christmas? Let me know here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist!

No comments:

Post a comment