5 Old Holiday Games That Prove Your Grandparents Were Insane
Today's Christmas party games kinda suck: it's either Ugly Sweater Contests, White Elephants, or Argue About Ronald Reagan With Your Intoxicated Uncle Until He Fakes a Heart Attack. Back in the old days, however, the way people entertained themselves while waiting for Jolly Old Saint Nick was much more entertaining. Any of the following games will light a giant spark under your next holiday shindig, provided nobody tells the cops:
Hot Cockles (Late 1700s-Early 1800s)
If you're bored with using Twister as a convenient excuse to touch somebody else's naughty parts, then perhaps you'd prefer a friendly game of Hot Cockles. A very friendly game. "Put your face in someone's crotch" friendly:
"Carol? Wait, no -- grandma! Definitely grandma."
The rules are incredibly simple: while your vision is impaired due to your head being buried in another person's lap, one of your buddies hits, kicks, spanks, and paddles your vulnerable and willing behind. At this point you have to guess who's behind the abuse, and if you guess correctly, you win ... not getting your ass kicked anymore. Though we're guessing it wasn't unusual for players to intentionally name the wrong person so they could continue sniffing someone else's privates.
Despite sounding like some type of prison-gang hazing ritual, Hot Cockles was a popular Christmas game during the Rococo period of 18th-century France. According to this how-to video helpfully put together by the good horn-dogs at the BBC, while some spankees kept it clean by cupping their ear to the designated lap, many quickly recognized the game's sexy, sexy potential and dove in nose-first. We're assuming those games didn't last very long before giving way to other sorts of fun, also involving spanking.
Judging by the women's hands, the guy just farted and the player is getting the worst of it.
The Slave Market (1930s)
Don't worry, the Slave Market isn't a twisted Christmas game where you playfully buy black people. Come on, give our ancestors some credit. No, this is a twisted Christmas game where you playfully buy girl people.
The rules, as described in New Zealand's Evening Post back in 1934, require you to gather a handful of pretty girls "if possible" (you may dress Uncle Bob all frilly-like if need be) and then bid on them. Each players gets the same amount of fake currency, and the objective is to buy up as many slaves as you can. So it's like fantasy football, only with more human rights violations and even less dignity. Whoever has trafficked the most humans at the end wins, and if there's still time left until midnight, just shuffle the slaves and start over.
However, the game isn't as simple as it sounds -- there's some strategy to be had here:
Suggestions for when there's too much family around and a massive orgy isn't an option.
Yes, a true master of the slave game waits for bargains while attempting to goad the other players into overpaying for "Janet's saucy eyes." If that's not enough, both the auctioneer and the slaves will try to troll you into spending too much, and if you let them get to you, you'll find yourself with no money and just one slave at Christmas Eve's end. What could be sadder than that? Other than being the one slave, of course.
The Post doesn't say if the winner gets to keep their slaves or not, and Googling "slave trade rules" just got us kicked out of the library. Since the paper's offices weren't immediately burnt to the ground, we're going to assume the answer was not.
Are You There, Moriarty? (Victorian Era)
The popular Victorian party game Are You There, Moriarty? involved no people called Moriarty, but that's, like, the least bizarre thing about it. The game was played with two players wearing blindfolds and lying down on their bellies, left hand in left hand. Each one would be holding a rolled-up newspaper or another suitable hitting apparatus. One player would ask, "Are you there, Moriarty?" and the other would respond, "Yes," like in a dry version of Marco Polo ("dry" as in "on land," not "without booze"). Player 1 would then greet his opponent by seeking his voice and hitting the shit out of him with the paper, with the goal being to strike him on the head.
There's a big possibility that whoever came up with the game had been hit in the head with a much harder object.
If Player 1 was successful, Player 2 was eliminated and replaced with somebody else. Of course, such a sophisticated game involves a lot of strategy. On offense, you could answer yes and then immediately move out of the way to avoid being hit, while on defense, you could use a popular technique called "cheating your ass off." It was apparently not uncommon for the Moriarty-seeker to remove their blindfold and pummel their opponent mercilessly -- but in a classy, gentlemanly way, because this was the Victorian era, after all. What's more, the audience was discouraged from alerting Moriarty about the hornswoggling, leaving his increasingly mushy brain to figure it out on its own.
You'd kill so many brain cells that you couldn't just "walk it off" afterward, because you'd have forgotten how.
We're surprised that the game hasn't made a comeback in today's hyper-aggressive, road-ragey culture. Not only is it a perfect way to let out one's anger, it would give newspapers their first reason to exist in about 15 years.
Cigarette-Lighting Race (1900-1950s)
But hey, maybe things like recklessness or casual sexism aren't what you're looking for in a Christmas party game. Maybe you want recklessness and casual sexism at the same time. If so, an old-fashioned Cigarette Race is just what the doctor ordered:
The horrible, horrible doctor.
Promoted as a fun way to stay in shape (because, for some reason, smokers seem to have trouble keeping themselves in tip-top condition), the race would see men on one side of the field and their very best girls on the other. The guys would race over to their main squeezes, who would attempt to light their cigarette. Then, back to the starting point, and whoever made it there first with a still-lit cigarette won ... emphysema? Yellow teeth? We're not sure, but it's not "a long life."
This wasn't as simple as a gaggle of out-of-breath guys running around while women flashed open flames in their faces, though. Not only did these ladies have to light 'em up, they had to do so in a manly way. It's right there in the rules: "They are not allowed to strike on any part of the ship, on a match box, or on the soles of their shoes, which leaves 'man fashion' practically the only way in which they can ignite the matches."
"Does that thing have a 'matchbook' setting?"
Putting aside the ridiculous notion that setting a stick on fire by sliding it across their shoe or a fucking boat isn't manly, exactly what the fuck were these girls supposed to do? Well, according to the game, they're just supposed to be all woman-like and useless: "The efforts of some of the women to be mannish is often extremely humorous, and the inability of many women to ignite the matches in that way often loses the race to a swift man." Yes, the ones not running around with a tube of cancer in their mouths are the stupid ones.
The usual Christmas goodies not whetting the old appetite anymore? Then how about some booze-soaked raisins that are on fire? You know, just like Baby Jesus intended.
Show this to your grandpa so he knows his generation is too damn soft.
Called Snap-Dragon, this game was red-hot between the 17th and early-20th centuries in England, thus possibly explaining the old cliche about British people having hellish breath. You and your equally bored loved ones grabbed a bunch of raisins, threw them into a bowl, poured brandy (or any flammable alcohol) over them, and set that motherfucker ablaze. Everyone then took turns picking burning raisins out of the flames and eating them before their tongue melted. Whoever ate the most (or at least didn't cry out for mercy from any god that would listen) won.
After more interesting forms of entertainment, like records, TV, or not setting your house on fire became popular, Snap-Dragon died out. Mostly, anyways -- if you run with the right (wrong) group of people, you might find yourself breaking out the Sun-Maids, dousing them in spirits, Hendrix Guitarring those sumbitches up, and heart(burn)ily chowing down. But don't forget the official chant, lest you ever forget the true meaning of Snap-Dragon:
Here he comes with flaming bowl, don't he mean to take his toll
Take care you don't take too much, be not greedy in your clutch
With his blue and lapping tongue, many of you will be stung
For he snaps at all that comes, snatching at his feast of plums
But old Christmas makes him come, though he looks so fee, fa, fum
Don't 'ee fear him but be bold, out he goes his flames are cold
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
Smaug's treasure is way shittier than Tolkien made it out to be.
Jason Iannone writes columns, edits articles, lays out other articles, and interviews fascinating people. If you ever find Moriarty, let him know via Facebook and Twitter.
For more ways your deranged forebearers entertained themselves, check out 5 Classic Board Games With Disturbing Origin Stories and 6 Beloved '80s Toys With Bizarrely Horrifying Origin Stories.