An Atlas Obscura article makes it clear that the Victorians were insane.
Indeed, in the early years of Queen Victoria’s rule, Christmas rivaled Spring Break for sheer bawdiness and self-destruction. Nowhere is this more evident than in the bonkers Victorian parlor game of Snapdragon.
Traditionally played on Christmas Eve, players of Snapdragon must find themselves a broad, shallow bowl, and then prepare to risk their health. Into this bowl should be poured two dozen raisins. If raisins are hard to come by, almonds, grapes or plums will suffice. You should then pour a bottle of brandy into the bowl so that the raisins bob up and down like drowning flies. Place the bowl on a sturdy table, turn the lights down low, and then, with appropriate panache, ignite the brandy.
To play Snapdragon, arrange your family and friends around the blazing bowl so that their faces are lit in a demonic fashion and then, one by one, take turns plunging your hands into the flames in order to try and grab a raisin. If you can accomplish this, promptly extinguish the flaming raisin by popping it into your mouth and eating it. [continue]
Oh my. That rather out-does beer pong.
The Independent’s Christmas fun: Victorian parlour games page explains snapdragon, and goes on to tell us about other games, like this one:
If family relations have become slightly fraught over Christmas, you may be looking for a game involving rather more explicit violence, in which case you’ve come to the right paragraph: Moriarty is the game you’re after. [continue]
That article has lots more you’ll want to read.
Christmas parties these days are pretty tame events, all in all.
Do you know about the tradition of mummering in Newfoundland? Imagine, in the Christmas season, opening your door to a group of strangely-dressed, totally disguised people: mummers! You invite them in. They’re your friends, and you’ve got to guess who they are. Which is hard, because they might be wearing the strangest clothing ever, cross-dressing, disguising their voices, and whatnot. Once you’ve figured out who they are, they reveal themselves. You serve them something festive and have a visit before they head off to puzzle somebody else.
I love this idea. It makes me think about moving to Newfoundland.
If the idea of mummering intrigues you, head over to Hakai Magazine for this article: Return of the Mummers. The article summary: “The people of Newfoundland and Labrador revive an eccentric tradition that’s part Christmas, part Halloween, to celebrate the holidays.”
From The Telegraph: Real Scrooge ‘was Dutch gravedigger’.
He is synonymous with the traditional image of the Victorian English Christmas but Ebenezer Scrooge may have his roots much further afield.
According to Sjef de Jong, a Dutch academic, the Charles Dickens character may have been inspired by the real life of Gabriel de Graaf, a 19th century gravedigger who lived in Holland.
De Graaf, a drunken curmudgeon obsessed with money, was said to have disappeared one Christmas Eve, only to emerge years later as a reformed character. [continue]
Still looking for a good Christmas gift? Christmas Future seems like a fine idea. From their about page:
ChristmasFuture empowers people to give a new kind of holiday gift—one that helps eradicate extreme poverty and changes the way we think about giving. [continue]
From The Daily Mail: It serves 125, takes eight hours to cook and is stuffed with 12 different birds … now that really IS a Christmas dinner.
This massive roast, the proud creation of Devon farmer Anne Petch, weighs almost four stone (more than most airlines’ baggage allowance), costs £665, and has enough meat to serve 125 people.
It contains about 50,000 calories and takes more than eight hours to cook in an industrialducksized oven.
Anne, who runs the Heal Farm shop near Kings Nympton, said: "The True Love Roast has a bird for each of the 12 days of Christmas.
"It uses skinless breast meat from several birds of each species with flavours that work well together."
The roast contains turkey, goose, chicken, pheasant, partridge, pigeon squab, Aylesbury duck, Barbary duck, poussin, guinea fowl, mallard-and quail with herb and fruit stuffings. [continue]
Ah, Mennonites to the rescue again, this time with Buy Nothing Christmas.
This Christmas we’ll be swamped with offers, ads and invitations to buy more stuff. But now there’s a way to say enough and join a movement dedicated to reviving the original meaning of Christmas giving.
Buy Nothing Christmas is a national initiative started by Canadian Mennonites but open to everyone with a thirst for change and a desire for action.
Buy Nothing Christmas is a stress-reliever, and more people need to hear about it. You can change your world by simply putting up one of the posters (or make your own) in your church, place of worship, home or work. Be sneaky about it if you have to. The point is to get people thinking. It’s an idea whose time has come, so get out there and make a difference! [continue]
The site includes twisted Christmas carols, an info kit, alternative gift ideas, and a collection of posters.
UPDATE, December 2020: The Buy Nothing Christmas website I linked to back in 2007 is now gone. It seems that somebody forgot to renew the domain, and that domain has been snapped up by some horrid commercial entity. So I’ve changed the link. Now it goes to an old version of the site, archived by the Wayback Machine.