Family games at Christmas: what are we playing?

Why is playing games a so widespread and such an essential part of Christmas? To dissect what can seem obvious at first glance, we wanted to understand what role games play within the Christmas family ritual. Beyond the common thought that playing is something insignificant and childish, we took playing very seriously, and we dived into what playing is really about, what is at stake, the behaviors and attitudes playing generates. If the game is everything but “frivolous”, how does it position itself within the Christmas ritual?



Games allows the family as a whole and the individuals who compose it to find ways to thrive. Families can use a game to build the unity and alliance it seeks to rejuvenate at Christmas time. Individuals within the family can momentarily evade the rules that govern this gathering (paying attention to others, be festive, play your role as family member, etc.) and thus enjoying more leeway to act and think as they wish...


Christmas is not a trivial family gathering: on that occasion, members of the family reaffirm their alliance. Of course, there is no explicit contract that materializes that alliance and it is rather the feeling of spending a “nice Christmas” that marks the success of the operation. In order to do so, rules forbid to look outside of the family circle or to speak about oneself. Some rules prescribe focusing its attention on family members and treating them well. Christmas thus is a framework governed by specific rules, and playing opens a window on a world of its own - with its own rules, its own landmarks and its own dynamic. More precisely, the game opens on a fictive world, without any real consequences and that mustn't be taken not too literally. For that precise reason it allows saying and doing things that, outside of the game, should be passed over in silence and avoided. Momentarily, playing allows to show a way out of the Christmas period. But as it is also a valuable support for Christmas succes (for instance by putting people together - gaming can also be a key asset for the family). In the end, gaming is a tool of social regulation during the Christmas period.  

«Oh I think that (without any game) the evening would have come to an end more quickly and everyone would have returned home! I think that Christmas would have ended more quickly, we would have told anecdotes, recalled memories. I really think that the evening would have finished sooner.»


We met 15 persons to do semi-directive interviews at their home. The goal of each interview was to make them describe the more accurately possible the games they played at Christmas, as well as the players, their attitudes during the different stages of the game but also the comments issued at the end of the game.


Literature review

15 semi-directive interviews


Marc-Antoine Morier - Strategy & Anthropology

Graduated from the EHESS, Marc-Antoine shares his expertise in Sociology and Anthropology with companies. He joined unknowns in 2017 to organize and realize the social sciences fieldwork.

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Marc-Antoine Morier

""Social sciences offer methods and tools to understand people. Using them is a good way to understand how and why they do what they do and say what they say.""