When you think about the name "Middle Ages," you might be thinking, "Middle of what?" Basically, the Middle Ages was the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Italian Renaissance, when the Classical style of learning and culture that was practiced in Ancient Rome and Greece experienced a rebirth. To people who were entranced by the beauty and achievements of Roman culture and wanted to re-create it, the period that lay between the Roman Empire and the Renaissance was just a dull gap with primitive, ignorant people that was kind of in the middle of more interesting and enlightened times (Hollister and Bennett 1). Once the lovers of Greco-Roman culture and the Renaissance labeled the period between the two as just kind of an age in the middle, the name stuck. But, don't let them spoil this period of history for you. The Middle Ages had its share of achievements and intellectuals and its own kind of beauty, for those who are willing to take the time to appreciate it. This is the time of knights and chivalry, jousts and feasts, great cathedrals and castles!
The Middle Ages span about a thousand years. Scholars vary a bit on exact dates because a large empire like Rome doesn't really collapse all in a single year and a major cultural movement like the Renaissance doesn't begin on one specific date (both are more of a process than a single event), but roughly, the Middle Ages took place between about 500 AD and 1500 AD. That thousand-year period is also usually divided into smaller periods: the Early Middle Ages (c. 500 to c. 1000 AD), the Central Middle Ages (c. 1000 to 1300 AD), and the Later Middle Ages (c. 1300 to c. 1500) (Hollister and Bennett 2). Those names may not sound terribly creative, but the distinction is important because life in these different periods was quite different. The games they played and the rules they used also varied a bit between these different periods, and I'll explain a bit more about that later. It is also important to remember that we're not just talking about a single country here but an entire continent. Europe, as it is today, was made up of many separate countries with their own cultures and habits, something that will also influence what we talk about here. There are some things, including games, that the different countries had in common, but there will be some differences as well. The Middle Ages in general were a time of transformations, great changes which continue to influence life and culture even in modern times (Hollister and Bennett 2).
Now for the fun stuff! We're here to talk about games. But, while you're reading about the games here, you'll notice that, like the name of this period says, they're kind of in the middle between the old and the new. If you've already read about games from earlier periods, like Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, and Ancient Rome, you'll notice that they haven't disappeared. Like other aspects of life from ancient times, they didn't completely disappear with the collapse of the Roman Empire. They're still here, but with new twists, becoming more like the familiar games that we consider old classics today. There are some new things here as well, but the ties to more ancient games really make you think. Like the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And now that we're done thinking, it's time to play!
These are meant for two players, and they are still well-known today. You can easily find commercially made sets for them, although the boards can be improvised easily if you don't already own the game.
These are games for large groups. Although they're listed by holiday, some of them could be played at different times of the year. Even during the Middle Ages, some games were played both at Christmas and at Halloween or were shared between other holidays. Feel free to play them whenever you wish!
Although these games can be played by kids, they are not specifically intended for children. In fact, they were played by adults during the Middle Ages, and some of them are specifically for adults, like Bring Home the Bacon, which was a contest for married couples to see who had the happiest marriage.