Earlier this week my kids beat me at poker. No money changed hands, other than those colored plastic chips. But the bragging rights will last a while, at least until next year around this time. Our 20-year-old and 17-year-old sons wanted to teach the rest of us how to play Texas Hold 'em. We ordered cheap pizza and listened to Kenny Rogers sing "The Gambler" while we played.
One of the Christmas traditions at our house is to open a series of what I call "early gifts." The process begins a few days before the main event. Early gifts are always family games, so the only surprise is what type of new games we're going to play. I spend much of the year on the hunt for the best group games, reading reviews and asking friends which ones their families like best.
The only rule with these early presents is that they're for the whole family. Unlike reindeer games, no one gets excluded from game time. In fact, each family member must be "all in" -- as in no staring at your phone, no retreating to your room, no work emails while you play. Family game nights are the on-ramp to Christmas, and they've become one of my favorite parts of December.
Last night the kids opened one of the early gifts, and we spent the next hour or so playing a new music trivia game. The teenagers reveled in how much more extensive their knowledge of popular music is. (In my defense, I didn't grow up with Spotify like they did.) But thankfully, the game designers threw in a few questions about Prince, ZZ Top and Madonna, so at least Tom and I weren't skunked completely. We emerged with our middle age dignity mostly intact.
When we moved on to UNO, my luck improved. I won three rounds and rubbed it in the same way the kids do. When our son Jack had to draw 12 cards in a row just to come up with a yellow card, I laughed until my stomach hurt. There's nothing quite like watching a smug teenager being taken down a notch or two by a losing hand of UNO.
Tonight, we'll open another early Christmas game and see what laughs that one brings with it. As we do each year, we'll also revisit our favorite games, like dominoes, Quirkle, Trivial Pursuit, Code Names and Scrabble. And Tom will insist on a game of chess with each one of the kids, just to see if he still has what it takes to beat them.
The tradition of opening a few select gifts before Dec. 25 began when our kids were little, mostly to keep their anticipation from making their little bodies explode. I thought it would be a clever way to draw out and enjoy the fun and excitement, versus having it all happen on one overwhelming day.
While it did accomplish that goal, it also did something special for me, too. During game nights leading up to Christmas, I get to sit around the kitchen table with my favorite people. We win, lose, laugh, make jokes, give each other a hard time, eat snacks, drink eggnog and sip hot spiced punch. And it helps me realize that, despite all the crazy holiday preparations and the hustle-bustle this month brings, this part -- just being together -- this is what I want the most. This is the best thing I could ever have.
This year I hope we all realize that being with our favorite people is the gift. It's the one that doesn't have a barcode because it's so priceless. So precious. So essential to the well-being of our souls.
From my game-loving family to yours, may this Christmas be a time of joy and laughter. May it be a time that fills your heart with the love it needs most. And may your UNO or poker hand be a strong one.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at [email protected]. Her book is available on Amazon.