Christmas fun: Old Fashioned Parlor Games

George_Goodwin_Kilburne_A_good_hand; card games; of fashioned parlor gamesWhat to do with company that comes for Christmas? What about some old fashioned parlor games?

I love the holiday season, especially because it means I can have friends and family over. Occasionally, boredom can strike though and I find myself scrambling for something fun to do. With long winter nights with only candlelight to see by and fireplaces for warmth, those who lived in the regency era confronted the boredom issue regularly. No wonder parlor games were so popular.

And you know, what was fun then, can still be fun today. Here are some games that don’t require a lot of space or ‘accessories’ to play–perfect to pull out of your back pocket when the natives start getting a little restless.


crown; old fashioned parlor gamesThe Courtiers

The king or queen sit in a chair in the center of the room and begins to gesture with the goal of making the other players laugh. The courtiers copy the monarch’s movements with smiling or laughing. The player who laughs first becomes the monarch and play begins again.


Cup of Sand

Fill a coffee cup or small bowl heaping full of sand, rice, sugar or flour. Place a toothpick topped with a small flag on top. Each player tries to knock out a little sand (or whatever the cup is filled with) without making the flag fall. The player who makes the flag fall must bow and concede defeat to the rest of the players. 



The Laughing Game


All players sit in a circle. The first player says “Ha”. The second player says “Ha Ha”, third player says”Ha Ha Ha”, and so on. If a player laughs or smiles, he or she is out. Play continues until only one player remains. 


pluma-azulFeather Shuttlecock


 This game requires a small, fluffy feather, a kleenex or a balloon.

All players stand or sit in a close circle. One player throws the feather into the air then blows the feather to keep it in the air. The player that the feather comes closest to does the same, trying to prevent the feather from touching him or her or touching the ground.

If the feather touches a player, that player is out of the game. A player who allows it to touch the floor is also out of the game. 

The Ribbon

Each person has a piece of ribbon or string. One player stands in the center of the room and holds one end of each ribbon. The others circle around that player and each takes a lose end of ribbon. The player in the center then calls ‘pull’ or ‘let go.’ If he says let go, all the players must pull on their ribbons. If he says pull they must let go their ends. The center player continues to quickly call instructions until one player makes a mistake. Players who make errors move to the center. 


cornavaShadow Buff


 For this game you need a bright light and a blank wall or sheet to cast a shadow on.

One player in front of the wall or the curtain, with his back to the light and to his companions.  The other players walk behind ‘it’ while ‘it’ tries to guess who is walking by their shadow. Players can do what they wish to try and disguise their shadows. If a player’s identity is guessed, then they become it.



Revel, Rachel. ‘Winter Evening Pastimes or The Merry Maker’s Companion’. (1825)

Child, Lydia Maria. The Girl’s Own Book. New York: Clark Austin &, 3 Park Row & 3 Ann-St., 1833.


Have you played any of these games. Which of these would you be most likely to play?


Find more parlor games here, here, here and here.

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    • Sheila L. Majczan on December 12, 2016 at 3:03 pm
    • Reply

    Have not played any of those games. Interesting though and thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas.

    • Anji on December 15, 2016 at 4:36 am
    • Reply

    These all sound as though they could be a lot of fun at parties for children or adults., especially if the adults have been partaking of the odd glass of negus!

    Some friends of ours hold an annual party this time of year and after dinner, it’s time for charades. Watching our friend, who’s five foot tall and skinny with it too, trying to act out “Conan the Barbarian” has become the stuff of legend! Another game we play there involves sticking a post-it note on each others’ foreheads with a song, film, TV or book title, or some such written on it (each round of the game has a theme). Then we all have to circulate around the company asking questions so as to identify what’s written on our own note. One time, a couple of years after the Conan incident, I was paired with our diminutive friend for the film round, so of course I had to put Conan the Barbarian on her forehead, didn’t I? I’m pretty sure that game must have a name, but I’ve no idea what it is.

    • Anji on December 15, 2016 at 4:41 am
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    Something I forgot to mention about that last game. At the start of each round, everyone’s name is put into a hat (or other receptacle) and you pull one out to see who you’re paired with. You can’t be paired with the same person twice, so depending on the size of the company, the game either lasts as long as it takes to be paired with everyone else, or until you’ve had enough if it’s a large company.

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