Photo: SoPHie via Flickr
About ten years ago, I went to a New Year's Day brunch party. Frankly, I hadn't really wanted to go. That particular time in my life was a low point; I'd just gone through a breakup and was feeling unusually forlorn, and I wanted to wallow at home. But the hostess was a good friend and she had invited other interesting, cool people to a good restaurant... so I dragged my feeble, mildly hungover self downtown.
It turned out to be one of the nicest New Year's celebrations I've ever attended. The other four guests were strangers or near-strangers, but they were all lively, funny people who knew how to keep a conversation going. And then the hostess suggested that we play a game in which we make New Year's resolutions, but instead of vowing to do something ourselves, we would make resolutions for one another.
This game has two parts:
A Physical, Spiritual, or Frivolous Directive
First, everyone writes a resolution on a piece of paper and puts it in a hat. Then everyone draws one (tossing the paper back if you get your own). These resolutions should be broadly applicable, as you don't know who's going to draw the one you wrote (so no, "I will lose thirty pounds" or "I will learn to cook"). Self-care is good. Frivolous is good. Even existential and spiritual things are good.
In our group, one resolution was "Every morning as soon as I wake up, I will bend over and touch my toes ten times, then throw out my hands to the side, wiggle them in a 'jazz hands' motion, and shout 'it's showtime!'"
I wrote the resolution to "learn to do one thing in the kitchen that has stymied me." The one I drew was "Practice the art of listening."
Everyone reveals which resolution they wrote. Then the group disperses for an hour. In that hour, you go and select a gift (priced below $US10 ($13)) for the person who wrote your resolution for you, based on the resolution they received. So Bernie, who wrote my resolution, had received a resolution to "include more music in his life." So in my hour, I bought him a book on beginning music theory from a local second-hand book shop.
Now, this is obviously a game that is different from other games. It isn't competitive. There isn't really even a goal. It's related to Surrealist games, like Exquisite Corpse, in which the purpose of the game is to create something collaboratively, and to be amused.
Don't Like This Game? I Have Others!
Is this too loosey-goosey for you, or maybe you don't want to include the shopping-for-a-gift portion? Try these two variations:
1) Two Truths and Lie: Everyone goes around the room and states their two real resolutions and one resolution that's a total lie. The room has to figure out which one's bogus. (Is two too many? Do one and one. Or two lies and a truth.)
2) Straight-Up Guessing Game: Everyone writes their resolution down on a slip of paper (or types it, if everyone's familiar with everyone else's handwriting). The host reads each resolution aloud, and everyone has to guess which resolution goes with which person. The person with the most correct answers wins.
I love these kind of games because they introduce a kind of (manageable, non-creepy) intimacy to social gatherings: We are acknowledging together that New Year's Day marks a symbolic fresh start. Resolutions are at heart a resolve to do better and to be better, and sometimes, it's not the particular resolution that matters — it's the feeling that someone out there is rooting for you. Even for just the span of a New Year's Day brunch.