What are you doing New Year's? Probably playing Uno.
I have been hearing some people talk this week about Christmas nostalgia – this feeling that Christmas is never as good as when you were a kid. I can see their point, but for me, Christmas was never really an issue. I think I have just as fun Christmases now as an adult as I did when I was a kid.
No, my problem is New Year’s.
As an adult, I never know what to do for New Year’s Eve to make it special. When I was a kid, New Year’s was always fun.
When I was a kid, my brother, uncle, and I would put on coats and head outside on New Year’s Eve with my Maw and Pop to shoot off a bunch of fireworks.
We were never allowed to hold the Roman Candles; we had an old glass Coke bottle as our holder. Instead of shooting them in the air, my brother and uncle lined bottle rockets on the highway and shot them down the dark 2-lane highway, listening to them shriek and pop in the distance. I spent my time twirling around with sparklers.
And in all honesty, sparklers were always kind of the worst. They were always too smoky and smelled acrid. But the lights were pretty.
I don’t care for fireworks at all now.
This time of year, I go to bed with a pair of earplugs because hearing fireworks popping outside gives me major anxiety. I’m like one of those little dogs that need a thunder shirt and a dose of CBD oil.
The times I had the most fun on New Year’s were when we drank sparkling cider and played games.
I have attended somewhat glamorous New Year’s parties. I’ve gone places where there was drinking and dancing and kisses at midnight, but my favorite New Year’s memory was the year we ended up throwing an impromptu party in my Maw’s flower shop with all our friends and neighbors.
Sometime back in the late 90s, the family came up with the brilliant idea that we should sell fireworks on New Year’s and Fourth of July – the two main fireworks holidays in Tennessee. My Pop built a little shed and the week between Christmas and New Year’s someone would sit in that shed and sell roman candles, spinners, and rockets. The biggest night for sales was on New Year’s Eve because people would always wait until the last minute.
I was home from college. None of the adults had thought much about what we would do for New Year’s. I kept asking everyone what the plan was, but they would just shrug and tell me, “Sell fireworks.” I didn’t want to be outside in the cold, so I was hanging out in the flower shop. The next thing I know, friends and neighbors stopped by because they saw the lights on and thought we were having a party. Someone brought in a cold cocktail shrimp platter from Kroger and chips and salsa. Someone else brought ham and cheese for sandwiches. Someone else brought ice and 2-liters of Coke and Diet Coke. Someone else set up a card table and brought out the Uno cards. I played for hours, trash-talking both kids and adults. People were shooting off fireworks outside, but I couldn’t hear it at all because we were all talking and laughing. In the back, the little TV was set to New Year’s Rockin Eve. After the ball dropped in New York, I left and went to bed, while the adults kept it going.
You also have to consider that I was raised in a Baptist household. My grandparents did not drink alcohol except for rare instances when Pop added a little Old Charter to his boiled custard. The only parents that were getting boozy on New Year’s were my parents, and they did that in the privacy of their bedroom. Parties are not simple. And unless you are serving cocktails, it is difficult to keep a house full of people entertained. This is where games are essential.
I have incorporated games into our annual New Year’s Celebration. One year we played Monopoly until well past midnight. We've played Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Uno. This year for Christmas Hubs got a new Monopoly game and Scrabble, because when I tried to get him to play Bananagrams with me, he said, “If you don’t keep score, it’s not a game, it’s an activity.”
I know that many people love games like Cards for Humanity, Exploding Kittens, or I Never, but these are games designed to spark conversation. Even at a party, I don’t necessarily want to chat. I also don’t necessarily like to play something that’s too physical. Pictionary, Charades, and Truth or Dare require people to risk making themselves look foolish for the entertainment of others. But something like Uno, Trivial Pursuit, or Spoons create cheers or groans and often laughter.
The only problem is when people become a little too competitive. My Ninnie switched her holiday dinner to a snacks and Bingo Night with cash prizes instead of gifts. It was Hubs’ first Christmas with my family after we married. When the game was over, my Ninnie discovered that she was missing some of the balls from the bingo set, which means that not every card had a fair shot to win. Once that was revealed, the lawyer Hubs, started presenting his case about this injustice. My cousin who won the big prize gave it back to my Ninnie and the whole party fell apart. He leaned over to me and said, “I ruined it didn’t I?”
I said, “Yeah. You did. We probably won’t be invited back.”
We were not. We still feel bad about it.
I would have to say that Uno is the best party game. It’s simple to understand, is accommodating to a decent number of players, attracts on-lookers, and is a simple deck. The only issue is when you get into different variations of the rules. Not everyone follows the traditional rules. The way we play is if you don’t have a card to play, you draw one card and can either play it or you have to pass. We’re quick to call out when someone doesn’t say Uno when they’re down to their last card, and we allow Wild cards to be played at any time.
However, once on a visit to Tennessee to see my family, I ended up playing Uno with my nephews and my brother sat and watched us play. For some reason, he decided to read the rulebook that came with the deck. I played a Draw Four Wild and he jumped in to explain to us that we were not playing fair. Maybe it was retaliation for the Bingo incident. He read to us the rules. According to the official Uno rules, a player can only play the Draw Four Wild Card if the player has no other option. If another player feels like you were playing the card only to make someone draw four cards, they can challenge the play. If the challenger wins, the other player has to draw four. If the challenger is wrong, they must draw six cards. After this official consultation of the rules, I said if that was the rule, we should play it that way. My nephews lost their damn minds. They said we had to play Tennessee rules, not these new Atlanta rules. To be fair, they were the Uno corporation’s rules, not my rules.
In my own house, we can only play Uno in small doses. W. and Hubs take the whole experience seriously while Behr and I play a little looser. Also, Behr has not perfected his trash talk. He mostly becomes louder and sillier, which W. cannot abide. And when W. gets tense, Hubs gets tense, and they both become snappy with Behr.
Regardless, it is our favorite family game and it got us through quarantine.
This year, Behr and I have already started talking about our New Year’s menu and activities. I am going to propose the new Monopoly game. Everyone has claimed they plan to make it to midnight. I can’t make that promise, but if we have something to play, I can definitely hang in there.