How Playing Games Together Spreads Holiday Cheer
When I was growing up, my brothers and I were constantly fighting with each other. Our sibling rivalry turned our house into a war zone, and I don’t know how the three of us survived to reach adulthood. However there was one thing that would cause us to call a truce, and that was playing a board game together. Our hallway linen closet didn’t hold linen, but copies of Monopoly, Candy Land, Scrabble, Battleship, Operation, Risk, Stratego, Clue, Sorry!, Mousetrap, The Game of Life, and many other classic board games. All it took to set aside our differences was a chance to sit on opposite sides of kitchen table and channel our conflict through dice roles and meeple movement.
Fortunately my own sons did not inherit the rivalry of my siblings and I, but they did inherit our love of board games — although their tastes run toward European games like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Forbidden Island. Now that they are grown and lead busy lives, we don’t have many opportunities to play together, except on holidays and other family gatherings. But rarely does a visit go by without someone bringing out a board game to play before it’s time for us to part again.
There’s a universal appeal to the shared experience of playing a game together. My wife and I occasionally host Chinese students who are visiting schools in the United States and want an opportunity to live with an American family for a few days. I’ve found that despite our cultural differences and language barrier, every child we’ve hosted enjoys playing games. Play is the great unifier. As the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga observed in his landmark book Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture, “You can deny, if you like, nearly all abstractions: justice, beauty, truth, goodness, mind, God. You can deny seriousness, but not play.”
Holidays are a great time to put aside all serious matters and focusing on play. Games are a great source of relaxation and stimulation for adults as well as children. They can sharpen the mind, build relationships between people, and bring the ones you love closer together. Follow Johan’s advice this holiday season: you can deny everything else, but don’t deny yourself the joy of play.