The Family that Plays Together...

There was no NFL football or cable TV to occupy Christmas revelers in the Regency era. People had to make their own fun. In the case of this picture of a game of ‘Blind Man’s Bluff,’ it looks as if rakish young fellows might have a good deal of fun indeed.

But Christmas was also a family holiday. Source documents record the glee of boys and young men returning home for Christmas from their boarding schools. It was almost as if they were inmates suddenly freed from prison! To celebrate their return, their families enjoyed parlor games, many with unlikely names: Shoe the Wild Mare, Hot Cockles, Steal the White Loaf, Bob Apple and Snapdragon.

Snapdragon was played by filling a shallow bowl with brandy, sprinkling raisins in the liquid and setting it alight. Players were expected to snatch the raisins from the flames and extinguish them by popping them in their mouths. Needless to say, there were some burned fingers and tongues, but the reward for plucking out the most raisins was the promise of “meeting one’s true love during the coming year.” In another variation of the game, a gold button was inserted into one of the raisins and the one who snagged that raisin could ask a boon of anyone present.

According to Robert Chambers’ Book of Days 1879 this rhyme was chanted while the game was played:

Here he comes with flaming bowl, Don’t he mean to take his toll, Snip! Snap! Dragon!

Take care you don’t take too much, Be not greedy in your clutch, Snip! Snap! Dragon!

With his blue and lapping tongue Many of you will be stung, Snip! Snap! Dragon!

For he snaps at all that comes Snatching at his feast of plums, Snip! Snap! Dragon!

But Old Christmas makes him come, Though he looks so fee! fa! fum!  Snip! Snap! Dragon!

Don’t ‘ee fear him but be bold, Out he goes his flames are cold,br /Snip! Snap! Dragon!

Still sounds like a good argument for cable TV to me. However, spending time with loved ones, flirting, having a jolly time with one’s family and friends — it seems a Regency Christmas shares much with present day celebrations.

Does your family play games together during your holiday celebrations?

8 thoughts on “The Family that Plays Together…

  1. MiaMarlowe says:

    Jane–Sometimes you have to unplug to reconnect. Good idea!

  2. Jane L says:

    We have electronic rules at our house on Christmas. No tv, phones,ect. Last year all my kids and their significant others built a HUGE snowman on Christmas day. It was so fun and they were like little kids, looking for hats and carrots for nose and asking for stuff to decorate him! It was very enjoyable to watch!

  3. MiaMarlowe says:

    Deb–I used to play King on the Corner with my cousins when I was a kid. Thanks for reminding me of it.

  4. MiaMarlowe says:

    Theresa–“Fish netted sitting down” sounds like the young lady has caught the gentleman in the blindfold. “Parson’s mousetrap” was slang for marriage during the Regency. Thanks for your translations!

  5. Theresa Romain says:

    BTW, Mia, I just read the text in your figure above, and it’s pretty cute. If I’m translating it correctly, it says “Fish Netted sitting down” The gentleman is not touching her. “Fish Netted” (actually, Hake Netted) is the man’s name, and it might be a French equivalent to “parson’s mousetrap” But, um, he IS touching her–so if he’s netted, he deserves it. :) Anyone have better French skills than I do?

  6. Deb says:

    We used to play Canasta, but haven’t done so in several years. My grandparents loved to play cards, so there was always some card game going on, even if it was King’s Corner for the kids.
    We like to play Apples to Apples, Gestures, and other games that may be new for anyone who got them from Santa.

  7. Theresa Romain says:

    Fun post, Mia! Snapdragon=ouch. But I guess if you have enough brandy, you don’t notice the burns.

    I can’t say I’ve ever gone diving in flaming booze as part of a family Christmas (though the week is young…). We have some card games we play when we all get together, like Progressive Rummy. While eating panettone or Danish butter cookies, of course–got to get those carbs in!

  8. MiaMarlowe says:

    We play a card game called “Hand & Foot”. It’s a little like Canasta. And a board game called Sequence. My girls like Guitar Hero, but I’m all thumbs when it comes to pretending to play an instrument. Then there’s the Wii…

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