My favorite day of the year for the past 5 years or so has been New Years Day, hands down. Although I am an ultimate loser by the end of the day, my heart is full. This is the day we host our annual family olympics, a day of board games, challenges, and competitive shenanigans of a DIY, on-the-spot, at home nature. And the best part of it is, this isn’t a huge complicated affair—it isn’t that hard to prepare and make the fun last all day. This post explains its origins and inner workings pretty well with story.

Here I’ll lay out the basics so you can fill one of your at-home Saturdays or Sundays with collective joy (sparsed throughout with tears if you have a normal family like mine that falls to pieces here and there and can occasionally get a little competitive…).

Our game faces. Vivvi is on the line between fierce and happy about a recent IL legalization...
Our game faces. Vivvi is on the line between fierce and happy about a recent IL legalization…

1. Choosing games. We do around 10 challenges. We try to include a mix of board/card games, a few physical challenges, and we have started including a Switch game that we can all play equally, like Mario Party or Just Dance (although this is absolutely not necessary if you don’t have a gaming system). Physical challenges in the past have included bowling to knock over blocks, shooting nerf guns to hit a homemade target, and throwing things at each other’s heads. We always are sure to include several what-we-call equalizers, so that even the youngest among us can win—we started this when our youngest was 2. These are usually games of complete chance, like Pie Face or Pop Up Pirate, a board game where a Pirate pops when a sword is put into the right hole.

A note about our favorite game. We always end the day with bucket ball. This was a first year equalizer improv and it stayed set up all winter long because the kids (and we) loved it so much. You need stairs in your house, balls of various sizes, and containers. We place a bunch of containers at the bottom of the stairs (buckets, Chinese takeout containers, bowls…anything!) and assign them points by size. We take turns rolling the balls down the stairs and tallying up points. For some reason, it’s hilariously intense. Please include Bucket Ball as your final game if you are able.

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2. Create a scoring sheet and system. We like a big poster that is super visual to update after each game, and we use stickers to keep track of scores. The kids, those simple-pleasure-weirdos, love the stickers. Of course, any ole piece of paper and pencil will do if you don’t want to get elaborate. We play from top to bottom, so on the list of games we mix up the board games/physical games, equalizers, etc. Our scoring system is 3 for first place, 2 for second, 1 for third, and zilch for the ultimate loser. This has worked to create a lot of back and forth in the leaderboard throughout the day.

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3. Opening games speech. We’ve found this to be absolutely necessary to set the tone for the day and expectations. Ground rules are explained. We keep it funny and light with a few death threats thrown in for crying baby sore losers (ehem, ehem, one of the Wallys, I won’t say which one…). Bad attitudes not welcome. We remind each other that it’s anyone’s game all day long, so don’t lose hope.

4. Play! The games begin! We actually play competitively in our family, with no one “letting” anyone win. We do make adjustments for the younger members to keep certain games fair, though. For example, a 2-year-old can shoot a nerf gun from a closer line, etc. Somehow, even though this started in our kid’s toddler years, my first year on the podium was this year. (Yes, 4th place! Oh podium, why do you evade me so oft!)  Ours usually lasts all day, with some breaks after 3-4 games for lunch, snacks, or however your timing works.

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A note about scoring in rounds: We figure out scoring per game as the day goes along. This doesn’t have to get complicated, and you can make the day go fast (with only one round of play) or slower with elimination rounds depending on your family’s attention span and endurance. Since we need a 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st place, we play some games in multiple elimination rounds to get the rankings in that order. For example 3 elimination rounds of Uno Attack because it feels anticlimactic to let the first person to win be the winner and work our way down. Instead, the first round we play all the way until 4th place is eliminated. We go back and do until 3. Then 2 and 1. In 2-player games, we do a bracket-style elimination where losers play for 3rd and 4th and winners play for 1st and 2nd.

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5. Closing ceremonies. At the end of the day, we hold an olympic-style podium celebration. We create necklace medals that very moment out of available materials. (Usually for us it’s wrapping paper ribbon, foil, cut out pictures of our family’s heads.) We play the national anthem, and the 4th place family member films while handing out medals and complimenting the winners on their hard work, prowess, and good looks.

I hope you try this and love it! And if so, implement it on your New Years Day. It’s a great way to start the year.

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