I love all holidays, including those that were never part of my family traditions. Rich and I were once in India during the spring Holi Festival, where people celebrate the triumph of good over evil by throwing paint on one another. We wore old clothes and considered it a hoot to get spattered in honor of a reincarnated Hindu prankster god. Here in Spain, you can have similar fun ruining old clothes with tomatoes at the August fiesta of La Tomatina, which got its start when a youth fell off a parade platform onto a tomato-seller’s stall. I’ve never attended that one, but it’s on my short list, as is the city-wide water fight Songkran with which Bangkok residents wash away their misfortunes in April's New Year festivities.
My point is, holidays can be messy affairs, but they do add color and richness to our lives. They are the pivot points on which each year turns, giving us a sense of continuity with the past and momentum propelling us into the future. If you and your family have decided to spend the holidays on the road this year, how can you create a satisfying celebration? More to the point, how can you keep a bunch of kids entertained in a hotel room or Airbnb apartment? It’s hard to get in the holiday spirit when everyone is sitting around gazing glassy-eyed at their cell phones or a TV screen showing Love Actually in a language nobody understands.
So how do you energize the crowd? Back in the dark ages before we all carried electronic devices, people used to play parlor games, homemade entertainment designed to get everyone up off the couch and into the action. Here are a few of our favorites; click on each header for details and rules.
The Memory Game
This Thanksgiving, I had a crowd of almost forty guests to entertain, so I hit upon a variant of a game that’s been used for centuries to hone perception and recall. In the classic Kim, the Memory Game was used to train a boy spy, and it’s still taught in scout packs and the US military. You assemble 25 small items — hotel toiletries, matchbooks, photos torn from brochures, etc. — and cover them with a scarf or napkin. Remove the scarf for sixty seconds, let everyone look at the objects, then cover them up again while people write down everything they remember. The one who correctly identifies the most items wins. If you have a big crowd as we did, have them compete as teams. You’ll need multiple collections of stuff and should allow far less viewing time; 15 seconds for a team of six is about right. One of the beauties of this one is that people of all ages, backgrounds, and languages compete as equals. As you can see, the game held our guests utterly enthralled.
Photos by Randy Hulett
Who Am I?
In this one, participants try to guess whose name is written on the Post-it note stuck to their forehead or pinned to the back of their shirt. The rules are simple. 1. Pick a category, such as Star Wars characters or famous athletes; this year, I wouldn’t suggest political figures unless you are very, very sure of your audience. 2. Have everyone write down a name and attach it to the forehead (or shirt) of another person without letting them see who it is. 3. To figure out your identity, you ask questions such as, “Am I a woman?” Answers are strictly limited to “yes” or “no.” I’ve heard there are ways to compete and win, but I’ve usually seen it done simply as an icebreaker and to create a lot of convivial pandemonium.
My family loves this game and we always limit it to movie titles as this is the most common ground among a wide spectrum of participants. We split into two groups, and each team writes down movie titles and drops the folded papers into a bowl or hat. A player from the other side picks a title then acts it out without using any words; teammates attempt to guess what it is. I will never forget the time Rich drew Alex and Emma and decided to suggest the last word by pantomiming an enema. No one had a clue what the movie was, but his graphic enactment was unmistakable and had us all collapsed on the floor sobbing with laughter. Good times.
Not all holiday celebrations adapt well to rented lodgings. I’d advise against re-enacting Holi Day or La Tomatina in your rental apartment, and you might want to avoid Rich’s Alex and Emma approach if you’re playing charades in a busy hotel lounge. But including a few parlor games in your family’s celebrations is a great way to build memories together. And isn’t that what the holidays are all about?
Thanks & Praise
A week ago, I mentioned on this blog that my new book is coming out January 5 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon. Your response was amazing. Women of the American Resistance: You Are the One We Have Been Waiting For was pre-ordered so many times it shot up to a rank of #2 on the Amazon Best Seller list for its category. That is phenomenal by any standard and was the best holiday gift I could receive. My deepest gratitude to you all for helping launch the book and for being part of my readership. Your comments on this blog give me fresh insight, make me laugh, and keep me on my toes. Gracias, amigos. You’re the best!
To address a few questions that have come my way: No, Amazon doesn't allow pre-orders to be sent as gifts, nor can you order multiple copies. Yes, there will be a paperback version; it comes out on January 5 at the same time as the Kindle. Not a Kindle person but want to take advantage of the 99 cent launch price for the e-book? Download Amazon's new, free Kindle app and read the e-book on any phone or tablet.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
As we journey through the pandemic together, my blog provides a regular supply of survival tips, comfort food recipes, and the wry humor we all need to lighten our hearts on dark days.
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