When I was growing up, my family liked to play board games at Christmas. It started out with the adults while us kids were busy having a wrestling match with cheap-ass plastic and its tag-team partner gravity. When we outgrew that frustration we joined them. The first one I remember playing is Pictionary, which I hated because to this day I can barely color inside the lines, let alone draw something freehand and have it be recognizable. I also remember quite a bit of Trivial Pursuit, although in my family there was nothing trivial about it - we were pretty fucking serious about wanting to win, and by "win" I mean beat my dad.
By far the most popular game we ever played and the one that dominates my memories was Crack the Case. My parents got it for my brother as a gift one year and the entire extended family decided to test it out after dinner. We were instantly hooked. Nevermind that we didn't even play it right. Almost immediately we stopped keeping score and just played it until we felt like stopping, no small feat considering the disturbing amount of competitive spirit that myself, my father AND my brother all carry around to this day (remind me to tell you how I'm "winning" at sex right now). Crack the Case worked like this: one person would pick a card out of a pile. There were three piles to choose from: Easy, Medium, and Hard. Over time as we got good at it we started disregarding the Easy cards almost entirely. On the front of the card would be a "case" - some mystery, usually a suspicious dead body, and a handful of details about the environment or circumstances the body was found in. The back of the card had all the details about what had happened. The goal was to solve the case: Who killed this person, how and why? The more difficult cards had either less initial information, or the information given was misleading. I remember one time spending several hours and no small amount of frustration on a case where the card read, "A woman has died. On the ground is a puddle of water and a hat. Who killed her, how did they do it and what was the reason?"* The trick to the thing was that you were only allowed to ask the person reading the card yes or no questions. It was like do-it-yourself CSI before there was any such show as CSI. Everybody stayed at the table and played. If sitting around playing board games as a family sounds completely dorktastic, that's because it is. Except that it wasn't. The game has been out of print for years, so good luck finding it, but if you do, I defy you to sit down with your family and play this game without thinking it is the most fun and addictive thing you've ever done with your family (unless your family sits around having "family heroin time", which would be more addictive, though I dare say it's probably not nearly as fun, at least after a while).
I made the decision several years ago not to spend any more holidays with my family and I can't say I regret it. I've grown very attached to the freedom of not having anything expected of me. I don't have anywhere I'm supposed to be at any certain time. There is no dress code. I don't have to get dressed at all if I want. If I wake up that morning and decide "You know what? Fuck ham. I don't feel like cooking. Imma eat candy all fucking day and no one can stop me", I can sit there with a massive bowl of M&Ms in my paint splatter sweatpants watching "A Christmas Story" 16 times in a row and never take a shower. Of course I would never actually do that because OHMIGOD YOU GUYS, Christmas is so TOTALLY, like, my FAVORITE as by now you all know (and if somehow you've missed this piece of information about me, I'd like to take this opportunity to tell you that my living room is currently a forest of Christmas trees. Seven of them). Also, ham is awesome.When people ask "What are you doing for Christmas?" I have to restrain myself from saying "WHATEVER THE FUCK I WANT! SUCK ON THAT, BITCH!" and making their trip to rural Indiana to see their crazy aunt that farts at the table and their racist grandparents seem like purgatory. But the one thing that I do always miss this time of year is that time right after dessert when someone would go to the cupboard and pull out Crack the Case.
*Cap, Bry, Simmy and Kelly: Who remembers this case? We seriously spent like two hours on it. Bonus points for the first person to comment with the answer.