Old-Fashioned Christmas Games & Christmas Carols

Victorian Christmas Games
The sleigh ride, 1860

‘Christmas is usually kept as a family festival, and old-fashioned games in which young and old can join are the most appropriate. In fact, a too-elaborate entertainment is out of place on Christmas-day.’ (The Book Of The Home, 1900, p. 315)

‘For most parts of the United States the majority of out-door sports will always be confined to the summer season. Of winter sports there are skating, sleighing, tobogganing and a few others; but in these we cannot always indulge. City boys and girls have no steep hills down which to coast, no glassy ponds to skate on, and they are not always able to indulge in the luxury of a sleigh ride. In the long winter evenings it is generally much pleasanter to gather around the cozy fire on the well-lighted table, there to pass the hours until bedtime.

Victorian Skating, Ice cracking under skaters
Ice cracking under skaters

Now, books, papers and conversation are very pleasant methods in which to pass away the time, but where young people are gathered together there is usually a demand for something more lively and sportive. It need not be very noisy, but at the same time it may be very amusing, as well as instructive. It is the purpose of this article to give a few games that may be played without any but the simplest appliances, and in which boys and girls can alike take part.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1906)

‘The very pleasantest memories of my life center around Christmas when I was a child. […] My mother was a genius at inventing new games and making over old ones, She could take an old favorite like Blind Man’s Buff, Hunt-the-Thimble or Grab-bag […] she could remodel almost any ancient game successfully so that it seemed brand new and was twice as much fun to play. Our house became a center of merriment on Christmas afternoon for aunts and uncles and cousins from all the ccontry round. […] My mother gave us freedom to play
what and as we pleased. We could entertain ourselves in the side room with quiet games like checkers, anagrams and authors, or we could join the large group in the living room engaged in more lively diversions. Needless to say, we usually chose the latter, and would have played straight on until bedtime if my mother would have permitted.’ (Games for Christmas afternoon, 1930)

‘And now to consider the games. We do not want them to be too rough for best clothes, but all the little folks must enjoy themselves to the utmost […] Little prizes of bon-bons done up in small parcels, tiny Japanese fans, penny dolls, or little books give an added interest to competitive games, but in no case should they be things of much value. Games should follow in quick succession to prevent the boys sliding up and down the room, or trying each other’s strength, which is apt to upset the harmony of the entertainment.’ (San Francisco Call, 1903)




Victorian Christmas Parlor Games



‘A very good game is called the “Extinguisher.” After clearing the room, and arranging the little guests on either side of it, a candle is lit at the far end from the door; one of the children is then blindfolded, and has to find his way to the candle and blow it out. He can be guided by the rest calling “hot” or “cold,” but it is really more amusing in complete silence, when he frequently blows in quite a wrong direction. All the attempts should have a time limit, otherwise it gets wearisome to both actor and onlooker.

Blowball And Feather - Victorian Parlour Games
The feather (London Society, 1865, p. 89)

A table-game called “Blowball” originated In America. Tapes are stretched round the table for boundaries. Pencils are used for goals, while an egg-shell pierced and “blown” is used as a ball. Players sit round the table and blow the shell about as a ball is kicked in a game of football. Captains are chosen, who select their sides, and once a player has taken his position he may not leave it.

Just one more new game […] the “New Blindman’s Buff,” where no one is blindfolded, but the one who is to play the part of blindman is seated on a footstool facing a stretched white sheet – just as you would arrange one for a magic lantern. Some way behind him a candle is put on a table; then the children pass, one at a time, between the light and the blind man, throwing their shadows on to the sheet, and, by their shadows, he has to guess who it is that is passing behind him. The child whose name he guesses correctly has to take his place. It is a pretty game, and possesses a good deal of interest. Care must be taken to have the blind man seated sufficiently low, so as not to cast his own shadow on the sheet.’ (San Francisco Call, 1903)




‘Any number of boys and girls may take part in this game. The first thing to do is to “count out,” as in “hide and seek.” Then the one who is counted out stands in the middle of a ring formed by the rest of the children playing. Next, the person counted out, who is the blacksmith, tells the other boys and girls to drop their hands and stand still as mice. When the blacksmith is not looking the other, players may move; but they must be careful not to let the blacksmith see them move. If he sees them move he can chase them, and when he catches one he must hold him while he calls out: “One. two, three, blacksmith.” The one caught must now help the one that is “it,” the rest going through the same performance as when the blacksmith caught him. The first one caught is always “it” for the next game. Each one caught must help the blacksmith till all are caught. The blacksmith can tag no one until he has seen him move.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1910)





This is the famous game which was played so much at one time by the Cambridge professors that they declared that any subject should be discovered in ten questions; but those who try it will be lucky if they succeed in twenty. One person writes the name of an object on a slip of paper, which he folds up and holds until some one in the company guesses it, who is then given the paper and allowed to choose a word. The answers must be confined to yes and no, except in answer to the first question.

Let us illustrate by supposing that the word “shoe” is chosen. The first question is always “Is it animal, vegetable or mineral?” to which, in this case, the answer would be “animal” – a shoe being made of calfskin. Then the questioner would go on about as follows: “Is it a manufactured article?” “Yes.” “Ancient ?” “No.” “Modern?” “Yes.” “Is it in this room?” “Yes.” “Have you get it on your person?” “Yes.” “In it an article of wearing apparel?’ “Yes.” “A glove?” “No.” “A shoe?” “Yes.” This is an easy one, but it is quite likely you will encounter something more difficult to discover when you play the game. […]

Victorian Blind Man's Bluff - Victorian Christmas Games
Blind man’s bluff, 1870


The old-time game of “blind man’s buff” has been long since discarded from the inside of the house. There are not many mothers who can bear to see their carpets torn up and their curtains torn down, furniture damaged and ornaments broken by a mad crowd of riotous youngsters and a stumbling “blind man.” But the name here described is open to none of these objections.

The players form in a circle, while one is in the centre, blindfolded and furnished with a stick. The players dance around in a circle, to music, if possible, until the “blind man” knocks on the floor with the stick. Then they stop, and the music ceases. The “blind man” points the stick to some one in the circle and asks a question. The one addressed answers in a disguised voice. As soon as the “blind man” guesses any one by means of the voice, he changes places with that person, and the game goes on as betore. […]


One who personates the flour merchant will try in every way to dispose of his stock by asking questions of the others, who must in their answers be careful not to use the words, “flour,” “I,” “yes” or “no.” For instance, the merchants says: “Any flour today?” “There is none required.” “Let me persuade yon to take some.” “That is impossible.” “Why so? It is excellent flour.” “You have my answer.” “Have I? Will you please repeat it?” “My answer was, Not any. ‘ “But the price is reasonable.” “I will not take any.” The flour merchant having succeeded in making her say, “I” proceeds on his way. […]


This is quite a startling game to the uninitiated. To play it is necessary to have a confederate, who plays the part of the witch. You leave the room, and during your absence a word is selected. Upon your return, you are addressed by the witch, who makes mystic passes over you with a wand, in mystic sentences, between each sentence thumping on the floor with the wand, and when the witch ceases, you promptly give the word.

An example will show how it is done. The word chosen is “loading.” The witch says: “Listen, oh, my faithful spirit!” (four thumps on the floor – a wave of the wand, and then another thump). “Don’t fail me in my hour of need” (three thumps). “Now explain the oracle. Give the true answer.” The vowels are expressed by thumps – one for A, two for E, three for I, four for O, five for U. Each sentence begins with a consonant, and you have only to put the word together. When two vowels come together, a wave of the wand separates them.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1906)




‘In “Shadow Buff,” all the little buffers and bufferesses from four to fourteen can take part to the delight of their friends and themselves in particular. To play the game proceed as follows: As many pieces of paper must be cut as there are juveniles to play – say ten, and on one of the ten pieces of paper must be marked, “the guesser.” The papers are now to be twisted up and placed in a hat or bag, and each juvenile to draw one, when the drawer of “the guesser” must take his or her place on the audience side of the screen or sheet, and as each of the shadows come in front, either by jumping over the light or coming from the side, endeavor to guess their names, and, if the juveniles are nearly of one height, and no great peculiarity of dress some difficulty will be found in always guessing who’s who.

Shadow Buff - Victorian Parlour Games
Shadow buff (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1867, p. 526/ San Francisco Call, 1903)

Note, if there are many young ladies to take part in Shadow Buff, the stage manager or director of the entertainment should be particular in making all come on from the sides – no jumping over the light in this for ladies young or old, so that no accident from a dress oatching fire can take place. Also, if the young ladies put on different hats or bonnets from those they are in the habit of wearing – exchanging with one another, indeed – it will be more difficult for the guesser to guess their names. They must come separately, one by one, before the light, and if the guesser guesses any one’s name right, he must take the guesser’s place; and so on as in the old game of blind man’s buff.’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1867, p. 528)



Hot Cockles - Victorian Parlour Games
Hot cockles (London Society, 1865, p. 92)

‘There is a game reputed to be of Grecian origin still popular in the northern counties […] One player having been decided upon by the drawing of lots, or other similar means, kneels down and buries his face in sofa cushions or drapery, extending his hands palm uppermost on his back. The other players pass in regular order, administering a smart succession of sharp slaps. It is the duty of the kneeling and, so to speak, blinded player, to detect one of the others, and pronounce his name directly he has slapped. Until this is done he has to kneel on and endure. It will be readily conceived that a very delicate perception of touch would be required; in fact, it is so delicate that it is merely a matter of guess-work.’ (London Society, 1865, p. 91)




‘No birthday is allowed to pass without playing at them. The young and
the old both delight in the game, and invariably choose it. The old people lay aside their dignity with a look of jovial martyrdom, and laugh more than any one else […] Lately, the game has been introduced into the drawing-rooms in this country, and has become
very popular. Its success has been tremendous. Cards have been discarded, and blind-man’s buff forfeits, and hunting the ring been utterly abandoned. On Christmas day, it has been looked forward to and entered into with as much energy as the sainted plum-pudding itself. […]

Charade - Victorian Christmas Games
Victorian Christmas Amusements – Acting a Charade, Illustrated London News, 1859

This game is, as its name expresses it, a charade, acted instead of spoken. The two most
celebrated performers of the party choose ” their sides,” and, whilst the one group enacts the charade, the other plays the part of audience. A word is then fixed upon by the corps dramatique; and ” my first, my second, and my whole” is gone through as puzzlingly as possible in dumb show, each division making a separate and entire act. At the conclusion of the drama, the guessing begins on the part of the audience. If they are successful, they in turn perform; if not, they still remain as audience.

The great rule to be observed in Acting Charades is – silence. Nothing more than an exclamation is allowed. All the rest must be done in the purest pantomime.

If, in the working out of the plot, there should be some sentence that it is impossible to express in dumb-show, and yet must be made clear to the audience, then placards may be used. As Hamlet says, they must “speak by the card.” This license may also be taken advantage of in the scenic department. For instance, it would be utterly impossible for the audience to know that the drawing-room wall before them is meant to represent a “magnificent view on the Rhine,” or “the wood of Ardennes by moonlight,” unless some slight hint to that effect is dropped beforehand. In this case, it is better to follow the plan so much in vogue about Queen Elizabeth’s time, and which, for simplicity and cheapness, has never been surpassed. At the commencement of each act, hang against the wall a placard stating the scene that ought to be represented.’ (Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1854, p 515)



Victorian Games: Christmas Gift Auction
Christmas Gift Auction (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

‘An auction is a game children love. This is easily arranged in the following way: The presents are all made up into brown paper parcels, tied with string in a very business – like way, care being taken to put a silver thimble, for instance, into a big square box amidst quantities of wrapping paper, while a big toy should be packed into as small a compass as possible, the great idea being that the bidders should be able to glean no idea as to the contents of each “lot” as it is put up to auction, from the appearance of. the outside. The presents thus disguised cause much merriment as they are unwrapped.

To begin the auction, the little son and daughter of the house don suitable cracker caps to represent the auctioneer’s man and the auctioneer respectively. The auctioneer should be further provided with a hammer with which to knock down the goods to the highest bidder.

Each guest, before the auction opens, receives several pieces of paper money made by writing “5s.,” “2d.,””£1,”etc.,upon slips of paper, and with the exact sums marked on their papers they must bid, so that the amounts bid jump from 2d. to £5, sometimes at a single bound, in a most amusing way.

When the children have finished bidding against each other for a likely – looking parcel, the auctioneer taps three times with the hammer, crying, “Going, going, going – gone!” At the third tap the auctioneer’s man hands down the parcel to the highest bidder, receiving his or her money in exchange.

When each child has had a parcel knocked down to it, if more presents remain, more money can be distributed, until all the lots have found owners.

For a Christmas party it is a pretty idea to wind a red ribbon round the hammer, and to wrap up all the parcels in scarlet crinkled paper, tied up with Christmas ribbons. […]

Victorian Games: Snowball Game And Animated Christmas Tree
Sleigh of snowballs & animated Christmas tree

Father Christmas with his Sleigh of Snowballs makes a delightful guest at a small children’s party. When the first excited greetings from the little ones are over, he proceeds to distribute the snowballs from his sleigh, and then, when a present is found concealed in the heart of each, much rejoicing ensues. The Father Christmas seen in the illustration was represented by a small boy of six and a half, wearing his own dressing-gown, liberally adorned with cheap white fur. The sleigh had a big cardboard dress-box for its foundation, and the presents were wrapped first in white crinkled paper, and then in cheap white muslin, while, to give a final touch of realism, a few light touches ot gum were added, and both Father Christmas and his snowballs received a sprinkling of glittering hoar frost, such as can be bought in penny boxes at any stationer’s at Christmas time.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)




‘A new version of the old game of pinning the tail on the donkey was provided by a doll dressed like Santa Claus and fastened to the wall. The player in turn was blindfolded, turned around three times, given a white beard made of cotton. He then tried to pin the whiskers exactly on Santa’s chin. The player who put the beard nearest its correct position won the prize.

If you enjoy memory contests, here is one to try. The hostess brings out a huge stocking made of coarse net and filled with all sorts of small articles such as a pencil, an eraser, a paper cutter, a ball, a spoon, a pen, etc. The guests look this over a few minutes to observe the contents. Then it is removed and they are given paper and pencils to write down as many articles as they can remember. A price goes to the one who has the best memory. […]

Contests and obstacle races are amusing. We used to enjoy nut shelling contests. Two groups stand in two straight lines. Several feet from the head of the line is a bag of peanuts. The first in line runs up to it when the whistle blows, grabs a peanut, shells and eats it and goes to the end of the line. This continues until all the players have had a turn. The group
finishing first wins.

Another game of this variety was called Christmas Ties. The players form in two lines, facing each other, a tie is given to the leader of each line — one red, the other green. At a given signal, each leader puts on his tie and ties it, turns and shakes hands with his neighbor on the right, and then as quichly as possible, unties it and passes it on to the person next to him, who does the same. The line finishing first wins.

Victorian Christmas Decoration
Victorian Christmas Decorations (The Book Of The Home, 1900)

Christmas Bells was a favorite with Uncle Seth. We used to play it year after year because he was sure to call for it as soon as he came in the house. Suspend a large wreath in the doorway at a convenient height from the floor with a little bell hidden in it. Prepare snowballs of cotton batting covered with white tissue paper. Each player is provided with three balls, one marked 5, another 10, a third 20. The players stand about eight feet from the wreath and each in turn tries to throw his balls through it. He is scored according to the number marked on each ball going through the wreath, Any player who accidentally hits the little hidden bell and makes it ring receives an extra 25 on his score

The younger members of the household usually enjoy a candy hunt. Sometimes the grown-ups find this fun, too. Hide hard candies all over the room. Provide each young player with a little green and red crepe paper baskets, and at the word “Go”, let them, all start hunting for candies to fill their baskets. The one who has the largest number at the end of ten minutes wins the game.

Another good blindfold game is called Blowing Candles. A small evergreen tree is placed on a table, and covered with small lighted candles. Blindfold the players, one at a time, turn the blindfolded player around three times and allow him to take five steps toward the tree. At this point he takes a big breath and tries to extinguish as many lights as possible.

The puzzle box is much like the old grab bag or fish pond. This my mother used to prepare in advance and bring out when we began to grow tired of the more rough and tumble games. She wrapped up inexpensive articles in boxes of a size and shape that would not give clues to the contents. On a tag attached to each box, she printed a description of the article inside. I remember a few of the tags. A small mirror, for example, done up in a
huge box, was labelled, “A place for reflection”, a blotter was entitled “An absorbing subject and sixteen candies were described as “Sweet sixteen”. The boxes were arranged on a table and the players were given pencils and cards and allowed to write what they thought each box contained from what its title read. The best guesser won. Of course this game took some thought and preparation and for most households might well be saved for occasions when special entertaining was being done, and a new form of diversion was needed. […]

I want to tell you about one more good game — nut target practice. The equipment is a dish pan, a cake tin and a tin cup and a supply 5 nuts for each person. Set the cup in the tin, the tin in the pan and the pan in the center of the floor. Then, from a given distance, let each player in turn shoot his supply of nuts, at the bull’s eye, which is the tin cup. Every
nut that lands in the cup counts five, the tin 2 and the dishpan 1.’ (Games for Christmas afternoon, 1930)



Merry Christmas 1903 Snowman
Merry Christmas, 1903



Victorian, Edwardian & 1920s Christmas Sheet Music

Christmas Hymn, 1854

Winter Winds, 1860

Christmas carols ancient and modern, 1897

Christmas morn : a Christmas carol service, 1900

Old Christmas carols of the southern counties, 1910

Christmas carols; old English carols for Christmas and other festivals, 1922



Tobogganing, Sleighing In The Victorian Era
Tobogganing in the Victorian era



Edwardian Recordings Of Christmas Songs

The Salvation Army Patrol, 1900

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, 1911

Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful, 1911

Merry Christmas & Sleighing Song, 1913

Around the Christmas Tree & Little Christmas Shoes, 1914

Christmas Bells, 1919

Voices of Christmas Past, 1898-1922



Victorian Skating
The skating pond, 1862


15 thoughts on “Old-Fashioned Christmas Games & Christmas Carols

  1. What a fun post! I just loved all the games and pictures of days gone by. Such a warm and simple time for the holidays. All the money spent on family games and all we needed was a feather and a blindfold! haha, who knew 🙂
    I simply love all the photos especially the last one, such fun to look at. Thank you for the gentle reminder to slow down!

    Just visiting from The Homestead Blog Hop.

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