(This post appeared on Austen Authors on December 12, 2018. I thought to resurrect it here. Enjoy!)
Tis the season to write Christmas based posts it seems. As we’re now in the middle of the season, with the day itself just around the corner, we’ve already seen many of my fellow AuAu bloggers write of Christmas in Regency times. I thought I’d focus on fun at Christmas—specifically, on some of the fun-loving traditions of our English cousins in the early nineteenth century.
Some of the games that were played at Christmas in Regency times are well known today. For instance, similes was often played in Regency times, and while it is more popularly known as a game played during Victorian times, particularly in the novel A Christmas Carol by Dickens, its origins stretch back long before that time. Of course, none of Jane Austen’s contemporaries would have known to answer “Tight as” with Fred’s “Uncle Scrooge’s purse strings!” Similarly, charades was a favorite which was often played by Regency Christmas goers.
Two of the most common and liveliest games they played had to do with food. The first was, of course, the infamous snap-dragon. A large shallow bowl was produced, and into this bowl was poured a liberal amount of brandy. Then they would put raisins and nuts in the brandy and light it aflame. The object was, of course, to grab treats from the burning bowl and eat them. Of course, for the lace-wearing populace of the time—particularly ladies of Mrs. Bennet’s ilk—doing so without setting yourself on fire was a true talent, indeed! In order to make the setting more striking, the lights would often be doused, leaving the blue flames of the burning brandy the only lights in the room. Don’t try this at home, kids!
Another food-based game was called bullet pudding. While it was called a pudding, the descriptions I’ve read suggest it was mostly flour, with a “sort of pudding” piled on the flour and formed into a peak at the top. The object of the game was to cut a slice of the pudding without disturbing the bullet which was placed on the peak. If the bullet fell while you were cutting the pudding, you had to retrieve it with your mouth, which left the unfortunate liberally coated with flour. In addition to these favorites, the revelers would often pull out old classics such as blind man’s buff—self-explanatory to most, I think—or any one of a number of rhyming games.
And while it is not specifically a game, the placement of mistletoe around the house was often treated like one, especially when kisses from pretty young ladies could be had. A large ball of mistletoe would be hung from the rafters, and whenever a young woman was found under the mistletoe by a gentleman, he would pluck a berry and claim his kiss. The young lady could not refuse a kiss when caught, so the Elizabeth Bennets of the world had to be on the lookout for young men like William Collins! When the berries had all been plucked, the mistletoe would be taken down, and any young lady who had not received a kiss could not expect to be married that year.