If I were to choose a favorite holiday, I would probably say Christmas gets the #1 spot in my book. I have so many amazing memories surrounding Christmas; traveling down to Florida with my family, spending time with my relatives from my mom’s side of the family, and calling my dad’s extended family in England to wish them all a Happy Christmas… The gifts were obviously a big part of my youth, but now looking back it’s really all about the family to me. I’m blessed to have extended families on both sides that get along and want to see each other, rather than the stereotypical dread that revolves around some holiday gatherings. Are these Christmas vacations I remember perfect? Of course not. Cousins bicker, Uncles and Aunts have to work late hours, people get sick (usually me for some reason…) and the magic of Christmas seems slightly less magical with the passing of my Grandma this past winter. But still, leading up to December 20th when I drive myself up to Pennsylvania (we switched venues a few years ago from sunny Jacksonville FL to snowy Gibsonia PA) I can’t help but smile at the idea of seeing my family soon.
One of the highlights about the family vacations is seeing my cousins on
my mom’s side: my sister and I are the oldest (she’s two years older than me), and then I have two cousins in college (Betsy and Lauren) and two in High School (Stephanie and Billy). Since all of my cousins are younger than me, watching them grow up can be a very strange feeling. When my mom told me that Betsy had started driving I remember looking at her and telling her that I didn’t believe her. The days when we were all under 5 feet tall couldn’t have been that long ago right? Still, it’s great to see that they are all growing up to be smart, talented, and most importantly genuinely kind and good people. Sure, we have our fights, and I know that sometimes I can be inattentive as a cousin, but there are so many great memories it’s like the bad ones don’t even exist in my mind. OK, so now that I’ve gotten the mushy stuff out of the way, I bet you’re thinking “that’s great Jack, but why are you talking about all of this on a blog about board games?” I’m glad you asked random reader, because this article has one very specific purpose: to show you how tabletop games can make Christmas better.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I play a lot of video games in my spare time. This was especially the case when I was in High School; any chance I got to play video games I would take. The problem was that I was also a very active High Schooler, so whether I was playing in the band, singing in the choir, or hitting serves on the tennis court, I was always busy after school and didn’t have much time when I got home what with homework and that whole “sleeping” thing. So my brilliant solution to this issue was to take my Xbox 360 with me to Florida! It’s vacation, I’ll have tons of time to play the new games I got right? Well, technically yes, but it had a bit of a backlash when it came to my cousins. Now, I’d like to preface this by saying that I wasn’t intentionally trying to ignore my relatives; the issue is mostly revolving around the fact that kids change when they get older. When they were younger, my cousins all really enjoyed watching me play games like Luigi’s Mansion or Pokémon Snap (bringing back N64 game references… I must be getting old). But as we all got older, the types of games I liked changed to one-player adventure games like Prince of Persia or Assassin’s Creed, and my cousins started to become bored with the idea of sitting around a room watching me play a game they couldn’t enjoy themselves. So slowly but surely, things got more frustrating for them (while I remained oblivious) until one cousin said to me “all you do is play video games when you’re here, so what’s the point of you even coming?” And suddenly I realized that what I wanted to do when I was on vacation wasn’t the same as what my cousins wanted to do. I left Florida that year feeling guilty, but also not knowing what would happen when we returned the next year. Should I stop playing video games around the holidays? Is it alright to get a little bit of time to myself to play, or is that selfish? Luckily enough, the next year ended up being one of the better ones, and paved the way for a new tradition on Christmas.
Christmas next year started off a similar way- I pulled out the consoles I had brought with me and my cousins rolled their eyes. We had dinner, we chatted, and things were fine but there was a feeling that it could go south if I moved towards my Grandpa’s den, where my video games were all set up. And then my sister made a recommendation that I will always appreciate: why don’t we play a board game after dinner? It just so happens that one of Katie’s new gifts was 7 Wonders, and she wanted to teach us to play.
Sure enough, we all sat down and labored through the tutorial and finally started to get the hang of things in our first play through. And suddenly, it was as if last year had never happened. I can’t stress enough that games are great at bringing people together- you can focus on a fun activity, but also have time to catch up, joke around, and all in all have a great time. 7 Wonders has become a favorite of ours to play, but we’ve also brought along games like Clue, or Settlers of Catan, or the Lego creation game called Creationary. Not all games are a hit (a two hour game of Settlers of Catan has spoiled it for my cousins somewhat) but no matter what happens with the game we enjoy ourselves. We don’t spend all vacation playing board games of course: we go outside and throw a football, build puzzles, watch TV, and yes I do get some video game time every once in a while. But the games are always a fun part of what we do. I’m looking forward to seeing what new games we play this year, but more than that I’m looking forward to spending time with my family.
So if you spend time with your family this Christmas, I recommend you find something that connects you in the same way board games have connected my family. Ultimately, if you look past the gifts and the food, Christmas is a time for family, and for me that time is something I get to enjoy with some slight help from board games along the way.