Ask my kids and they’ll tell you–their best Christmas memories are of family games and swimming at the waterfall hotel (known by outsiders as Embassy Suites). Santa always sent our family there a few days before Christmas. And while there, we gave one another the best Christmas gift possible: the gift of time.
How did our family holiday tradition begin?
Many years ago, I was talking with a good friend whose children had grown. I had noticed how well her adult kids got along and how much they still loved spending time together. I asked her for her secret.
She told me she didn’t know all the reasons her kids were so close, but she was sure this one thing had tremendous impact: a family tradition (compliments of Santa) of going to a hotel a few days before Christmas.
I was dumbstruck!
Seriously? A few days before Christmas??? I had always spent the days right before Christmas in a hectic frenzy of last minute errands. I could not imagine trying to get away with my family then. But I was crazy enough to give it a try, and after our first trip to the hotel, we were all hooked!
These are the rules we established for hotel time: for 48 hours we were to do nothing but eat, sleep, swim, talk, and play games.
We always arranged to have Santa bring a few wrapped presents to the hotel before we arrived and every year he brought new games! We would bring a few favorite games from home, too.
This was family bonding at its best! No distractions: no dishes, no laundry, no phone calls.
Our Christmas game time was special because our children got undivided attention from their parents and from one another. We laughed and played while the rest of the world hustled and bustled for last minute gifts. The “waterfall hotel” was our family connection sanctuary.
Whether or not you can take your family to a hotel, I highly recommend the tradition of playing games at Christmas. I would love to share with you some of our favorites:
[Note: The following games all include affiliate links. If you purchase any of these games using our links, we thank you for supporting Protect Young Minds!]
Family games for all ages
Suspend: This is one of those games that is easy to learn, but difficult to master. Though technically recommended for ages 8 and up, the game can be fun for younger kids, too. There is also a junior version of the game. Players must hang and balance game rods of different sizes. There are several different ways to play the game so you can make it easy or challenging depending on the needs of the players. Young kids love it, teens love it, and dads especially love it!
Bounce Off: Easy-to-learn and fun for all ages! This game works for 2 or 4 players. If you have a big family, you might want to buy more than one game or get the Party version (which lets up to 6 people play.) We brought this to a family gathering last year and I definitely wish we had purchased a few more copies of the game! There is also a Blow-Out version of the game which we haven’t played, but looks fun.
Headbandz: When I first saw this game on Amazon, I couldn’t stop laughing. Just the thought of my husband wearing one of these “headbandz” with a picture on it that he couldn’t see sent me into giggles for days. I had to buy this game! The whole concept just cracks me up. It’s like 20 questions, but you are trying to guess what’s on your head. So fun! So many laughs! For all ages.
Telestrations: Did you ever play “telephone” as a kid? You know the game when one person whispers something in one person’s ear and the message goes around the room. This is like that, but with drawing. You attempt to draw a given word. Others try to guess what you drew. Seriously, no drawing skills are required. It’s way more fun if you can’t draw. Technically, you do need to be able to read the word you are supposed to draw, but if you are willing to let a young non-reader choose what they want to draw, any age could play. This game is not about winning. It’s just all for fun! The original version is for up to 8 players, but there are also versions for up to 6 and for up to 12 players.
Spot-it: This game uses round cards with pictures on them. Every two cards will have one and only one picture match. You try to spot the match before other players. Sound easy? Try it! There are five ways to play this game. It’s fun for the whole family and small enough to transport. It could be taken to a restaurant and played while you are waiting for your food to arrive. Every family should have this game. It also comes in other versions: sports, hip hop, and more!
For families with kids ages 8-10 and up
[I don’t like to give exact ages for games. We had a son that often beat us at games intended for 10 and up when he was only 7. But the games below require reading, speed, or strategy skills such that they may not work for very young kids.]
Solitaire Frenzy: This may be our all-time-favorite family game. I’m sure it’s our most played game! If you know how to play solitaire, it will be easy to learn. You play your hand similar to solitaire, but you share the piles at the top of the game; everyone plays on everyone else’s piles. Up to 6 people can play. It’s fast, fun, and a bit addicting!
10 Days in Asia: Do you want to learn geography with your family in a way that is fun? Get games in the 10 Days series. The object of these games is to plan a trip using destination and transportation tiles that you must configure in the right order. (A little bit like Rack-O.) All the games are fun, but the Asia one is the only game with railroads (which is extra fun!) 2-4 people can play.
Pandemic: This is a cooperative game. Four major diseases have broken out around the world and players must work together to cure them before all humans die. This strategy game is never the same and there are ways to make it harder or easier depending on the needs of the players. The basic game is for 2-4 players, but you can add a fifth player as well as additional game complexity with the expansion pack.
Apples to Apples: I think everybody’s heard of this game and everbody likes this game! If you don’t have it, buy it! Grandparents are especially fun to play with.
Sequence: I love this game! It’s simple to learn, yet challenging. It can be played with 2 or 3 people (or in multiples of 2 and 3; you could play with 4 people or 6 people, but not 5 people). On every turn you play a card, place a chip, and draw. The goal is to lay down a consecutive sequence of five chips on a board that consists of face up playing card images. Jacks are wild. It’s a great game to play with family, friends, and even people you just met.
Bonus #1- When you have a big group:
Werewolves of Millers Hallow: Unless you have a big family, you will need at least one more family (or extended family and friends) to play this game. You can play if you have between 8 and 18 people (12-15 works especially well.) You appoint a narrator and then each player is secretly assigned a role (werewolf, townsperson, or special character.) The townspeople are trying to discover who the werewolves are before they are all killed off. My kids LOVE this game of bluffing, debating, persuading, and deceiving all in the name of fun!
Bonus #2: Just plain silly and fun!
Pie Face: If my kids were still young, this is the game I would get. Pie Face has over 2700 positive reviews on Amazon! Bring your own whipped cream (or use the supplied sponge). Spin the spinner and then turn the handle the number of times indicated. Watch out! You never know when – SPLAT! I bet every young kid (and even some big kids) would love the fun!
Pass the Pigs: This is a great travel game as it can easily be tucked in any bag. The pigs are like dice and you score points depending on how they land. Roll as many times as you want unless you “pig out” and lose all your points for that turn. I loved this game as a kid and it’s still a classic. This game comes in a party version, too!
Bonus #3: 10 more awesome family games!
I don’t know about you, but I am feeling ready to play. All of these games would work great for New Year’s Eve as well. Please share this post with your friends on social media. Then let’s all get ready for our funnest holiday season ever!
“It’s like the perfect answer to an anxiety-filled question: ‘How do I talk to my children about [pornography] without just making them more curious?!'” Amazon Reviewer, Daria