You don't need me to tell you that economically things are very tight right now. We're all being squeezed - and that was before Christmas reared its seasonal head. For many this year, tightening the belts is not just an abstract novelty but a necessity. But in some ways, this will be a blessing in disguise. The motto this season has to be: spend less, play more.
The reason I say this is because we need to get kids of all ages (and that means you grown-ups, too) back into the realm of imaginative play. Play is a crucial life experience and a vital part of human development. For kids, some playful activities help them develop their imagination. Some games increase their vocabulary. Some help them acquire motor skills, like holding things or opening and closing things. Other playful activities encourage children to be less bossy or to listen to others.
And this ought not to change as we grow up. It's vital to our well-being that we build 'play time' into our lives. And it doesn't have to cost money. Women getting together one afternoon to sample all the cosmetics testers at the beauty departments of stores are tapping into their inner child. Men watching football in a park together are bonding and imagining what they would do differently. We are, after all, group creatures, and there are plenty of low-cost activities (carol-singing? Robin-spotting? Holly picking? Making Christmas decorations?) which we can do with friends or family and which therefore nourish us psychologically.
Now I don't want to sound like Scrooge in the run up to Christmas. Affordable treats (a new lip gloss, some fancy chocolate) nourish our psyche and remind us that we and our loved ones are worth treating. Life is always about balance and it's nice to believe that if there's one time of year when we might push the economic boat out it would be Christmas. But the importance of play provides the rationale for tapping into something more vital to the well-being of all ages than money can ever be.
None of us really need gadgets or batteries or remote controls to feed our minds or to relax. This is because imagination thrives more on unstructured than structured play. How many kids' birthday parties have you gone to where the play has moved on from the structured games of pass-the-parcel to more open-ended play such as dressing up, or hide n' seek? This is because kids of all ages are hungry for mental stimulation. And remember: those of us who can entertain ourselves through imagination (making up stories about people on the bus, wondering where that plane in the sky is going to) will acquire a skill which will see us into old age when other resources (such as health, strength, co-ordination) may limit activities of pleasure.
The key this season is to make the mental shift. It's one thing to believe you're denying yourself things because you know you can't afford it. That way misery and frustration lies. It's quite another thing to say to you and your family: ok, this year, we're going to tap into our inner child and make this a Playful Christmas. Cover yourself in glitter, schedule Charades for after Christmas lunch, deliver mince-pies to the local old-people's home or women's refuge, walk in the snow (if we get it). Play needs to continue throughout our lives, not least because we all benefit. It's the greatest gift you'll give this season.
Also on HuffPost:
Also on HuffPost:
According to the <a href="http://www.worldofmonopoly.com/history/index.php">World Of Monopoly</a>, individuals have been playing a variant of this game since 1904, when Elizabeth Magie (pronounced McGee) was granted a patent for a board game called The Landlord’s Game. By 1935, a board game that resembles modern day Monopoly was being sold, and since then, more than one billion people have played the game and more than six billion little green houses and 2.25 billion red hotels have been “constructed”.
The newspaper crossword tradition began in America in the early 20th century, but soon made the voyage across the Atlantic. The Daily Telegraph were the first broadsheet off the mark, followed soon by The Times, who are now famous for their cryptic crosswords. The first Times crossword editor, Adrian Bell, had never set a puzzle before in his life, when he began the job. But, as the son of a newspaper editor, experience was no barrier to promotion. His first appeared in the weekly edition on 2 January 1930 and he went on to set around 5,000 puzzles between 1930 and 1978. Bell is credited with helping to establish its distinctive cryptic clue style, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adrian_Bell">according to Wikipedia</a>.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word 'charades' comes from 18th century French, which rather suggests that our neighbours helped form one of Britain's favourite parlour games. If you choose to guess puzzles from acted out clues this Christmas, then you'll join the ranks of centuries of party lovers.
One of our HuffPost writers admitted that she plays bingo every year with her grandparents. According to the internet (<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bingo_(U.S.)">aka wikipedia)</a>, the game of bingo can be traced back to a lottery game called "Il Giuoco del Lotto d'Italia" played in Italy in c.1530. So, if your family insist on an annual game, you're keeping an history tradition well and truly alive.
For past generations, a game of forfeits could provide much needed illicit fun. According to <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/christmas-fun-victorian-parlour-games-429526.html">The Independent</a>, forfeits were often little more than a thinly disguised subterfuge for copping a socially mandated kiss off somebody you weren't married to. Forfeits were accumulated as penalties, when members of the party lost at various games throughout the evening and could be redeemed later on!
According to <a href="http://www.victorianschool.co.uk/parlour%20games.html">VictorianSchool.co.uk</a> this game has many similarities to Twister. But it's much harder. <blockquote>Everybody stands in a circle. Each player then holds hands with another player, but the hands may not be those of the person next to them, and they may not hold both hands with the same person. This creates a large human knot. If doing this with children, some adult help may be required to create the knot: it doesn't matter, because the fun comes in the next part. The group now has to work out how to untangle the knot without anyone letting go of any hands. This involves twisting and contorting and should end in one or two circles of people. </blockquote> Best played with up to 10 players.
Tennyson is said to have played this game in the mid-19th century and it's lasted through the ages. Firstly choose you blindman and cover their eyes with a blindfold. Then spin her/him around until they are disorientated. The blindman will then attempt to capture someone and identify their prisoner.
One of the most simpler and infuriating parlour games around, this memory game is reportedly named after Rudyard Kiplings novel, Kim. Fill a tray with random objects and ask your Christmas party to memorise the items. Then take the tray away and ask your party to list everything on the tray. You could try splitting the group into two teams, to encourage a competitive spirit!
Also known as 'pass the ring', this game involves passing a slipper around a circle of people who are standing in a ring, behind their backs. In the middle of the ring stands a person with their eyes shut, and when they open their eyes, have to guess who has the slipper.
According to <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/christmas-fun-victorian-parlour-games-429526.html">The Independent</a>, this game is played in the dark, using a big sheet and a single candle on a table behind it. <blockquote>One person sits in front of the sheet while everyone else passes between the sheet and the candle, and the person in front has to guess who each of them is. The shadows can disguise themselves in any way they want to, but if they are correctly identified they have to pay a forfeit.</blockquote>
If you want a little more physical activity, this historic duelling parlour game looks like great fun. To be honest, HuffPost UK Lifestyle has never played, but the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Are_you_there,_Moriarty">instructions are here</a> if you want to try!
This game reportedly originated in America and was played widely in the 19th century. Players have 20 questions to a guess the object that 'answerer' as chosen. But they can only answer 'Yes' or 'No'.
We've left the most dangerous game until last... Snap-dragon was a parlour game popular from about the 16th to 19th centuries, according to <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snap-dragon_(game)">Wikipedia</a>. <blockquote>It was played during the winter, particularly on Christmas Eve. Brandy was heated and placed in a wide shallow bowl; raisins were placed in the brandy which was then set alight. Typically, lights were extinguished or dimmed to increase the eerie effect of the blue flames playing across the liquor. The aim of the game was to pluck the raisins out of the burning brandy and eat them, at the risk of being burnt. Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1755) describes it as "a play in which they catch raisins out of burning brandy and, extinguishing them by closing the mouth, eat them".</blockquote>
Follow Lucy Beresford on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lucyberesford