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History of Musical Chairs (Game) – Origins, Meaning, Metaphor,… 

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

colorful children's wooden chairs tied in a circle

Musical Chairs is a game that’s been much-loved by many adults and children across the world for many years…but, where does it actually come from? Who invented the game, and what was its actual purpose? These are questions that beg to be answered, so today, we’re going to delve a little deeper into the history of Musical Chairs.

The history of Musical Chairs in a snapshot:

  1. The exact origins and creator of Musical Chairs is unknown.
  2. The game was previously called “Trip to Jerusalem.”
  3. It is most commonly known to come from the German version of the game “Reise Nach Jerusalem”.
  4. There is a deeper possible meaning behind the game’s name.
  5. The name of the game is also often used as a metaphor.

If the above pointers have piqued your interest, perhaps it’s time that you take a closer look at the game and its interesting history. While there isn’t a heap of historical research to turn to, what we do know about Musical Chairs is quite interesting indeed. Each pointer is unpacked in further detail below, so all you have to do is read on. 

What Is Musical Chairs?

Before we leap right into the game’s history, let’s take some time to consider what the game is all about and how it is actually played. 

Musical Chairs isn’t a particularly complicated game. It is actually quite simple in terms of gameplay. A set of chairs must be set up in a circle. The number of chairs must be one fewer than the number of people playing. For instance, if there are 10 players, there must be 9 chairs set up. 

Then, music is played, and each player must move around the chairs as it plays. When the music is stopped, the players must sit on a chair. Of course, one player is not going to have a chair, and so there is a mad dash to get one. The player without a chair is out. 

The game continues by removing one more chair with each round until there is just one winner and one chair.

Musical Game Chairs – A Brief Look at the History of the Game

Musical Chairs has an interesting history even though we don’t know all too much about it. A lot of the facts surrounding the game are left up in the air and are actively disputed. It’s safe to say that we don’t know nearly as much as we want to. Let’s take a look at what we do know… The pointers below will give you a brief look at the history of the game. 

1. The exact origins and creator of Musical Chairs is unknown.

A great deal of time has been taken to research the actual history of Musical Chairs, and the answers are always the same. Nobody really knows who exactly invented the game and when that truly was. Everyone knows it is a game that has been played for hundreds of years. It might be nice to know exactly where it comes from, but it turns out that that information simply isn’t available. 

2. The game was previously called “Trip to Jerusalem”.

Al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Israel

There is something that we can glean from history, and that is that Musical Chairs was previously called “Trip to Jerusalem”. When the world at large started calling it Musical Chairs instead of Trip to Jerusalem is also unclear, but we do know that it wasn’t always called Musical Chairs. That’s fairly interesting in itself!

3. It is most commonly known to come from the German version of the game “Reise Nach Jerusalem”.

Trip to Jerusalem is a game that was predominantly played in Germany. It is known in German as “Reise Nach Jerusalem”, and that is where the translation comes from. German children played this game often, and still to this day, it is known by both German children and adults. If asked, they too will probably tell you that they don’t quite know the origins of the game and who actually invented it to start with. 

4. There is a deeper possible meaning behind the name of the game.

By this point, you might be wondering why the game was named “Trip to Jerusalem” at all. The reality is that the actual gameplay might have made it relevant to players at the time. There is a theory that implies the name was, in fact, inspired by the Crusades, who, of course, suffered very many losses along their travels. 

There are other theories out there too. One says that the name was inspired by the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to the land of Israel. This was called the Aliyah. During these trips, it is said that there were very limited spaces for Jews on the ships to the Land of Israel, and that is depicted in the game and the number of chairs used. Of course, these are just theories that haven’t been confirmed.

5. The name of the game is also often used as a metaphor.

Last but not least, Musical Chairs is more than just a game. Throughout history, Musical Chairs hasn’t just been a fun game to play with family and friends. It is also a term that has often been used as a metaphor because of the gameplay. 

What metaphor is that? The term is often used as “playing musical chairs” and means that someone or something is being moved around aimlessly in a time-wasting manner. One could say, “this is like playing a game of musical chairs”, or similar. 

Last Word

There you have it! If you were wondering about the history of Musical Chairs and where it comes from, now you know most there is to really know about it.

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.