Video games and the winter holidays go together like coffee and doughnuts but, over the last decade, the winter months have come to mean a lot more to those who celebrate a niche holiday known as Winter-een-mas, also referred to as "The Gamer Holiday."
I first heard of Winter-een-mas in 2006 when a high school classmate told me about a seven-day celebration of video games. His parents were going to be away between Christmas and New Year's Eve, so we decided to pull an all-nighter and see how much gaming we could cram into one night. It was the sort of silly thing you do when you're 16 years old, but 10 years later I'm at my computer looking up gamer cake recipes.
Every December since, my close friends and I have faithfully returned to small town Ontario to play videogames for 24 hours straight. With this year marking the tenth anniversary, I decided to look into the history of Winter-een-mas and find out if it was celebrated by others, and what it meant to them.
I found a Facebook page dedicated to the holiday. While it only had around 500 page likes, it confirmed that the celebration wasn't just something my classmate made up. I also found several mentions on social media such as Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest: people showing off their various DIY celebrations, which often included fashioning capes out of blankets, video game-themed crowns, and or a scepter made out of a game controller tied to a stick.
"Winter-een-mas means the world to me, it is a big part of my life all year around. I actually have a 'treat every day like Christmas Day' policy in my day-to-day life, and I do the same with Winter-een-mas," said Illisia Adams in an email. She's a freelance writer from Margate in Kent, England, and an admin of the Facebook page.
"For me, Winter-een-mas is more like a gamer's way of life than just a holiday season that happens a few days a year. It is a lifestyle choice," she said. "I choose to be at my gaming best every day, and spread the gaming joy to others!"
The name 'Winter-een-mas' was first mentioned in 2003 during a story arc that involved one of the main characters, Ethan, creating the holiday and crowning himself its king (eventually adorning a scepter with the irrationally large 'Duke' controller that came with the original Xbox) in order to take his mind off of the fact that the heat in his home was broken.
The following year, characters besides Ethan began to celebrate. In 2004, Buckley wrote up a Winter-een-mas FAQ where readers could find tips on how to celebrate, such as shying away from gift giving to avoid diminishing the holiday's meaning. Traditional holidays like Christmas have to deal with the spectre of consumerism and, in the FAQ, Buckley promotes handmade gifts over purchased ones.
Even so, video game culture is itself an important tool for advertisers—my own celebrations are full of half-empty Red Bull cans and Cool Ranch Doritos because those brands have successfully established themselves as "gamer fuel."
Buckley's guide did not prove to be definitive. He didn't foresee it growing beyond the pages of Ctrl+Alt+Del, so it's a pretty open-ended celebration. I reached out to him to find out what are some common ways of getting festive.
"I believe the most common tradition would be the (LAN) party. Getting a group of your friends together for an evening or over a weekend to play games together, sometimes new and sometimes making it a point to go back and enjoy some older games that you either previously enjoyed, or always wanted to play but never found time for," said Buckley in an email.
The winter months are full of ritual. For those that grew up with home video games, time off from school and the presence of loved ones allowed us to forge our own unique gaming habits. What better way to reconnect than by beating your brother at this year's iteration of EA's NHL franchise? Winter-een-mas takes this predisposition towards staying in and gaming, and focuses it.
"The colder, inhospitable weather lends itself to staying staying indoors," explained Buckley. "January/February tend to be 'dead' months in the gaming industry, where after the holiday season rush of new releases, very few big titles come out. This makes it a great time to focus on playing/completing the games you have/may have neglected."
While he hasn't mentioned the holiday in the pages of Ctrl+Alt+Del for the past few years, the dedicated community hasn't let it fade away, and Buckley plans to bring a new generation into the fold.
"It is something I hope to bring back with renewed interest sooner rather than later," he said. "While gaming is something we do all year long, sometimes it's nice to have a communal event that gives us an excuse to take a moment and appreciate it."
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