Folk Dancing Holidays in Appalachia Valentine's Day

Courtship Games from Days Gone By

Contra Dance Games

Several interesting courtship games can be found in The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore. These games were sometimes called play party games.

A boy and a girl stand at one side of the room. Another boy and girl catch hands and skip around them singing the first verse. The first boy responds with the second. The second couple sings the third and the first boy sings the fourth. At the end he asks “How about Mr. (one of the boys playing the game). The chosen boy comes up and takes the girl, and the singing dialogue is continued until all the girls but one are paired off. Then this last girl and the first boy clasp hands and raise them as in “London Bridge.” The couples dance through singing:

Come under, come under
My honey, my dove, my turtle dove;
Come under, come under
My dear, oh dear.

We’ll take you both our prisoners,
My honey, my love, my turtle dove;
We’ll take you both our prisoners,
My dear, oh dear.

Then hug her tight and kiss her twice,
My honey, my love, my turtle dove;
Then hug her tight and kiss her twice,
My dear, oh dear.

The last couple caught proceeds as directed in the last verse, and “go ahead.” The game goes on until each couple has been caught then the leaders dance under the clasped hands of all the other couples and are captured by the last. Then they too kiss each other and the game ends.

Old Sister Phoebe contributed by Maude Minish Sutton who obtained it from Bob Huskins a banjo picker from Mitchell. c.1927.

Old Sister Phoebe, how happy are we
As we go ’round and ’round the juniper tree!
We’ll tie our heads up to keep them all warm,
And two or three kisses won’t do us no harm.
Old Sister Phoebe!

Here comes a poor widow a-marching around
And all of my daughters are married but one,
So rise up, my daughter, and kiss your true love.
Old Sister Phoebe!

This kissing game is a favorite among young people in the remote parts of the Blue Ridge. Bob (the informant) was a very picturesque person, and he sang this song to a rollicking, jiggy tune.

Flower in the Garden contributed by Maude Minish Sutton c.1927. Collected in Big Ivy (Madison County).

There’s a flower in the garden for you, young man;
There’s a flower in the garden for you,
There’s a flower in the garden, pick it if you can;
Be sure not to choose a false-hearted one.

The boy in the center of the circle selects a girl, and those in the ring sing:

You got her at a bargain, my young man;
You got her at a bargain, I tell you,
But you promised for to wed her six months ago;
So we hold you to your bargain, you rascal you.

The couple kiss and the girl remains in the center. The second verse is the same except for a change from man and her to maid and him.

I’ve never even heard of any of the games from the book, but after reading about them I wish they had been around when I was a young girl.

Last night’s video: A Traditional Appalachian Breakfast and How to Make Red Eye Gravy, Grits, & Country Ham.


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  • Reply
    Ron Bass
    February 16, 2022 at 5:29 pm

    Never heard of these but if they were around when I was young I would’ve played them.

  • Reply
    Dennis M Morgan
    February 16, 2022 at 4:26 pm

    I am not familiar with these games. In the flat land we played “spin the bottle” to pair the boys and girls up. That was such an innocent game; it was from a much more innocent time. Dennis Morgan

  • Reply
    February 16, 2022 at 2:19 pm

    I spent my early teens before TV. Musical chairs, spin the bottle, and slap-kiss-tickle were games we played – usually at birthday parties – when I was 12-14. I got one heckuva slap from a girl who felt slighted by my innocent actions. Then came TV and a driver’s license and those games disappeared.

  • Reply
    February 16, 2022 at 11:48 am

    Nope, never heard of that one. I only vaguely remember post office, pony express, and spin the bottle. I looked up post office and it dated back to the 1880’s or earlier.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 16, 2022 at 11:05 am

    Me too neither! Dancing and partying were frowned upon where I was raised.

  • Reply
    Sharon Cole
    February 16, 2022 at 9:05 am

    London Bridge is the only one I knew about. I remember playing that in school. Thanks for sharing these games. Take care and God bless!

  • Reply
    February 16, 2022 at 9:05 am

    This is such an interesting post, and it takes us back to when life was less complicated. I never did play any of those games, but I do go way back to a time when some life was celebrated in a more slow-paced and less expensive way. The slower pace also offered you time to enjoy your peers. We had marshmallow and weiner roasts, and there was some Spin the Bottle games–I did not participate. By far my greatest enjoyment was a small group of singer/musicians from our local television station WHIS, who came to the local grade school to sing and play. There would be other activities such as cake walks or pretty girl contests. Corny, but fun. This would have been about the time Mel Street also played on our local tv station. He never joined this group, even though he always played on the same “Country Jamboree.” In my work I would often pass Mel’s old car repair shop. I always got a melancholy feeling, and I could almost visualize our hometown boy sticking a key in the door that appeared to be the original door. The modest building still stands! Mom had his old albums and loved him.

  • Reply
    February 16, 2022 at 8:45 am

    I’ve never heard of any of these games. It doesn’t surprise me that in earlier years they played these type of games in mountain communities. It kept the courtship in public view so nothing more than a hug and kiss were exchanged. Life as we know it in today’s world might be better off if courtships were done this way again.

  • Reply
    Margie G
    February 16, 2022 at 8:17 am

    Well those games are certainly old. I’ve never played them nor heard of them. I just don’t know what to think with phrases like “got her for a bargain.” I guess I don’t understand because it was way before my time. I liked old sister Phoebe the best of these. Musical Chairs was hellish enough or picking the team. If you’ve never been last picked, it sure does hurt. In Musical Chairs getting shoved and pushed hurts “feelers” too. I’m not a big game player and I hate sports. Don’t ask me what NFL means until the room is empty of those under 12. Lol

  • Reply
    Martha Justice
    February 16, 2022 at 6:47 am

    As a child in grammar school we played a very shortened version of London Bridge but had no clue that it was a courting song, but it was fun and I still remember the melody.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 16, 2022 at 6:35 am

    I’ve never heard of them either. I’m not a game kind of person so I probably wouldn’t have liked them and on the other hand they might have been good for me to get over shyness.

  • Reply
    donna sue
    February 16, 2022 at 5:36 am

    Those are interesting parlor games! My brain is having a hard time imagining them, though. I am so tired – I didn’t get much sleep through the night and can’t believe it is already almost morning! Anyways. I love old books, and have bought several party and hostess books. They have a ton of sweet and innocent games in them. I have used various games from them at parties I have given. People always have fun with them, too. I would love to hear more of the games in your book. Thank you for sharing these three!

    Donna. : )

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