Saturday, September 09, 2023

The games we played as children: Relievio

It's now early September. Hearing the crickets at dusk takes me back to the warm late summer evenings of yesteryear, and the sounds of neighborhood kids playing outside. 

Growing up, what were the games you played with your neighbors or siblings? Hopscotch? Stickball? Jumprope? A list of children's games is endless. But I wanted to mention a special one: Relievio. 

From age around the age of 8 to 12, this was a favorite game in our neighborhood. Relievio was a simple game, a cross between hide and seek and capture the flag, but spanned all of the properties on the street, including back yards. You needed at least a half-dozen kids to play, who were divided into teams. There was also a "jail," but the captured kids could be freed by a teammate. There were special phrases and calls, including "Ollie Ollie in come free." 

We would play after school until it got dark or it was time for dinner. On a warm night, we would go home for supper, but then come out again to play until twilight or our parents called us in. The cries of the game and shouts of glee when someone was tagged echoed throughout the neighborhood and then faded as everyone drifted home. As darkness fell, the crickets started their own calls. The block fell silent until the next day. 

I always assumed that one of our cleverer or more social friends made up Relievio, or perhaps learned of it from other kids in our town. Recently I learned that Relievio actually has a long tradition, going back to the 1800s and spreading across at least two continents under various names. The origins are obscure, but it seems to have come from Britain. The game-ending phrase that I heard as a child - "Ollie Ollie In Come Free" - was likely "All ye, all ye, in come free" at some point. We had no idea! 

Nicole grew up on the other side of the world and never heard of Relievio. But growing up, she and her siblings and friends had their own games and traditions. Every group of children did, no matter where they lived, or when they lived, as this Breughel painting shows:

Remembering these games now brings a smile to our faces!

As for our own children, our teenage son never heard of Relievio. It's sad, but it's not the first gaming tradition to fade away. I remembering hearing about kick the can, and would find scuffed marbles in the school playground, but never played these games myself - they were the domain of an older generation of children.

But other games live on. Our son played some of the same games that we did 40 or 50 years ago, including touch football and run the bases. In the winter, he went sledding with his friends. Both of our kids were enthusiastic Halloween participants through middle school. These and other childhood traditions will live on ... or perhaps be replaced by something new.

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