The 12 party games of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas land you with 12 days of enforced revelry. That’s 12 sub-sets of step-relations, 12 afternoons and evenings, 12 tailbacks on the M25. Kit Hesketh-Harvey suggests 12 games to keep you sane, with illustrations by John Holder.

Seize the iPhones. Lock away the Xbox. Turn off the television (you can always watch on catch-up). Games afford the rare opportunity of chance encounters between generations, moments of bonding that cement those unexpected, delightful flashes of intimacy between family members who don’t customarily see each other.

That the games played should be able to include all ages is vital. Try, therefore, to avoid anything too cardiac-hostile or requiring geek skills beyond the grasp of Diplodocian grown-ups: Naked Twister and anything more strategic than Monopoly are off limits.

You will need the following in place: an accessible, clean games table, plentiful supplies of scrap paper, playing cards and a fat bunch of sharpened pencils. This is my choice of the classic 12 which have endured the test of repetition.


As her breathtaking debut as a Bond Girl evidenced, Her Majesty is a more than decent actress. She no longer needs Helen Mirren as her stand-in. At Sandringham, she leads, we’re told, the Christmas Eve charades. (‘First syllable, sounds like “fun”? Something-ton, a Chinese soup? Title-song of A Chorus Line? Poem by Byron, Don-something? Jimmy Stewart Christmas movie, It’s a Something-derful Life?’)


If you’re holed up for the long haul, stage a full-scale panto. The basic scripts on the internet are legion. Download, rewrite, personalise, enjoy. And don’t overlook the Nativity, which has the best plotline of all.

Recommended videos for you

Traditional pantomime dame (man dressed as a woman) in a production of Jac and the Beanstalk, Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Wink murder

A playing card each, shuffled with probity and to include the Ace of Spades. Candlelight, a big old table and a gloomy high-ceilinged room are pretty much essential. The little ones especially enjoy themselves. Commendations may be awarded for authenticity of death scenes. Two decades on, after my ketchup improvisation, my nephew still requires counselling.


For the rules, check out the YouTube version on QI, in which a blindfolded Josh Widdicombe is thwacked over the head with a folded newspaper by Alan Davies to shrieks of ‘At the risk of sounding a bit too Carry On, mine’s not as rigid as his!’.

Moments musicaux

Karaoke, carols or the whole score of a beloved musical – all you need are the dots and a piano. I’m lucky: my cabaret partner is a dazzling pianist, but, if James McConnel you’re not, then two more modest players can take one hand each. Or find a guitar and give the toddlers a tambourine. If you’re terribly drunk, set off around the village with a lantern and an ostentatious charity collecting tin bedecked with tinsel.

Pet hates

Guess the grump. There is the more advanced version: ‘If he were a Majestic Wine/holiday resort/TK Maxx line, who would he be?’ Yes, it can backfire.


From John Updike, who has his characters play it in his 1968 novel Couples, to Bart Simpson; from Columbo and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to Thomas Pynchon (where the heroine plays Strip Botticelli), this is one for the intellectuals, requiring a breadth of cultural pretension of which Alan Yentob can only dream. In a memorable exchange in The Young Ones, Rik Mayall suggested: ‘What about Botticelli, where you’ve got to guess the identity of a famous person? What about Jelly-botty, where you have to eat 18 curries?’

The adverb game

Someone goes out of the room and then returns to perform silent tasks in the manner of the adverb, the obscurity of which – ‘elliptically’, ‘ungrammatically’ – prolongs the glee. My failsafe challenge? ‘Normally.’ Wins every time.

Pass the orange

Two teams line out, as for Strip the Willow, passing the orange chin to chin, no hands. Drop it and you start again. Clementines or walnuts make it more fiendish, the scarves, unfamiliar jewellery and piecrust collars of the Christmas season trickier still and the handover from tiny five-year-old to towering rugby-playing uncle unforgettable. (At the crunch point, having just eaten a Bendicks Bittermint, I once exploded with laughter all over the wife of a baronet, who has never spoken to me since.)

Who am I?

Post-It notes never properly stick even to fridges, so beware of fire-warmed foreheads – and strategically placed girandoles.


I’m assuming that you’ll have enough rooms, although, as Northumbrian Cousin says: ‘For anyone with a decent house, Sardines is far too cold to play in December.’

Party games


The book game

Having been read the blurb, players compose a suggested first paragraph. The most believable officially wins, although honours truly go to the funniest. You need a house containing generations’ worth of old, unreadable books. Happily, ours can field Database Issues in Geographic Information Systems and Knitting with Dog Hair. Bodice-rippers afford fertile territory – Jilly Cooper’s next novel, about football and gloriously titled Tackle, will be worth an entire evening.

If all else fails…

Keep the jigsaw running, on a cool landing or in a peaceful out-chamber, for those who wish to escape the merriment or over which to engage in a quiet conversation with an unfamiliar relation. Make sure it’s a fiendish one. The Ravensburger Krypt Silver 654 Piece looks just the job. It has no picture on it. That should take them through to January 7.