Playing 'Light the cigarette race' at the Tolaga Bay School Christmas party, 1953
Search the Web for ‘Christmas games’ and you’ll be able to play or download a huge range of computer games – for kids and adults. But before e-games, people played all sorts of games around Christmas time. Some had a Christmas theme or adapted another game for the occasion, such as ‘Pin the nose on Rudolph’.
Others were picnic or party games that could also be played at Christmas time. Many of these games reversed gender roles – men played women and vice versa – or they paired up the sexes in strange ways or rituals, such as the three-legged race.
Some of these games haven’t stood the test of time very well – we could even call them politically incorrect. The ‘Light the cigarette race’ dates back to at least the early 20th century. It was played on ships crossing the Atlantic and was said to be a way for people to get fit. In New Zealand it was played at the Tolaga Bay School Christmas party in 1953, when smoking was popular for both sexes. Clearly the aim was to get men and women huddling together; health issues about smoking were on no one’s mind then. The rules (when played on board a ship) are provided in this New York Times article, 9 October 1904.
A cigarette race
A cigarette race is not the least exciting or amusing. In this men and women are paired off. Either can do the running, but the men usually usurp that honor. The runners start from one end of the deck, while the partners wait at the other end. Each man is provided with a cigarette and each woman with some matches. The partners must meet, light the cigarette, and then the runner must return to the starting point, his cigarette still lighted, the one to get back first winning the race. The women are compelled to strike the matches to light the cigarette. They are not allowed to strike them on any part of the ship, on a match box, or on the soles of their shoes, which leaves “man fashion” practically the only way in which they can ignite the matches. The efforts of some of the women to be mannish is often extremely humorous, and the inability of many women to ignite the matches in that way often loses the race to a swift man.
In 1934 the Evening Post published a Christmas supplement that included suggestions for indoor party games over the festive season. One of these, ‘The Slave Market’, definitely belongs to another era of gender relations.
What to do at indoor Christmas parties is becoming more and more of a problem. Here are some suggestions which may help to add diversion to the occasion: For instance, you can sell some of your guests. This game is called "The Slave Market." You choose five or six players, attractive-looking girls if possible to be sold as slaves, and one good compere to act as auctioneer. You give, say, twenty counters to each of the other players, whose object is to buy as many slaves as possible. If two players manage to buy the same number of slaves, the one who has most counters left wins. Skill consists in "pushing" the bids of other players and lying low for bargains. This sounds easy in cold blood, but is not so easy when the players are subjected to the blandishments of a) Uncle William as auctioneer after a good dinner and b) the slaves. It would be a shame to let Jane's saucy eyes go for a paltry two counters!
The team at NZhistory does not advocate playing either of these games – at Christmas or any other time of the year! Please add your own examples of politically incorrect Christmans games in the community contributions area below.