Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Food and Fun.

Christmas Food and Fun.

Most of our present day Christmas traditions can trace their origins back to Victorian era when things like decorating a tree, sending greeting cards, and attending special church services became widely practiced. 

But before Victorian times, the Christmas season was all about food and fun. 

During the Georgian and early Regency Eras, bad weather and the prospect of impassable roads sent the upper classes scurrying away from dreary London before Christmas to family gatherings and house parties in the country.

House Parties.

Over the weeks of December and January, house guests played games, ate lavish feasts, and found ways to have fun and pass the time during snowstorms, especially in the Georgian era when rollicking parties were normal. In the early Regency years however, celebrations became a little more subdued and staid.

Before Christmas Eve, people of all classes ventured out to cut evergreens which were used to decorate churches and homes, doorways, banisters, mantles, and chandeliers.

Holly, laurel, ivy, and misteltoe were collected for 'kissing boughs'.

Celtic belief held that mistletoe had magical powers and could heal wounds and increase fertility.  Gentlemen agreed that mistletoe was magical because it allowed them to lure a woman beneath a bough, pluck a berry, and claim his one free kiss. When the berries were gone, no more kisses were given.


Games were organized to pass the time when guests were housebound and there were a lot of plays, pantomimes, and amateur theatricals. Young ladies played musical instruments to entertain and often the gentlemen would sing or assist by turning the pages of sheet music.

Apart from the usual cards, charades, and dancing, lots of games were played. Or on Christmas Eve there might have been Mummers Plays which were all-male acted stories of good triumphing over evil.

English: PD image of a Snap-dragon from Robert...
     Snap-dragon from Book of Days (1879)
  by Robert Chambers
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One favorite game for Christmas Eve was Snap Dragon.

Raisins were put into a large, shallow bowl, brandy poured over them and ignited. All the lights except the fire were put out players tried to reach through the flames to grab as many raisins possible.

This is the song for the game:

"Here he comes with flaming bowl,
Don't be 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, be but bold.
Out he goes, his flames are cold.
Snip! Snap! Dragon!

And in between the fun came the feasting, with Georgian households making the traditional Twelfth Cake, though as the Regency progressed, Twelfth Night almost dwindled away. Regency families might still have the large cake, but elaborate costumes and excessive drinking stopped until those sort of colorful pageants returned with the Victorians.

Festive Food 

On the menu was generally mince pies and perhaps a  goose or a piece of beef, depending on the family's wealth and status. Mince pies were not made of fruit mince as we do now, but of offal or meat such as bullock's tongue cooked with spices, orange peel, and wine and then used to fill pastry cases.

Another Christmas specialty was a Yorkshire Christmas pie which would be filled with turkey, goose, a hen, or perhaps woodcocks, partridge, or pigeons.

And after the main courses, came the Plum Pudding, mixed on Stir-Up Sunday according to each family's recipe and then boiled in a cloth.

Most families had some sort of celebration, though the poorer ones, such as those in Dicken's Christmas Carol, had neither the time or money to celebrate. For many, especially the ones left in cold and miserable London, still had to work at Christmas.

The Viscount's Pleasure House 

In my new release, The Viscount's Pleasure House, Justin wants nothing more than to sell his themed pleasure houses and gather what's left of his family around him once more and lead a normal life. Perhaps he can even persuade Chrissie that he's no longer a rake, but a man who wants a family of his own.

Food or Fun For You?

What about you? Do you celebrate the Christmas season with family? 
Do you have a big gathering where you eat and play games? 

Hope you have time to enjoy some of these other articles about the customs of Christmases past. 

Merry Christmas to all.

Suzi Love

Related articles about Christmas Traditions, Food and Fun.

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Anonymous said...

Lovely post Suz. I think I would love the games and traditions of the old days. It seemed to be more personal and the meaning with the activities and rituals.
Will enjoy your book over the holidays.
I have yours and others of these new Historical Releases in my reader. Just have to get to them all.
What a tremendously talented bunch of writers you all are :)

Cheryl Leigh said...

Fun post, Suzi!

I'd never heard of the game Snap Dragon. I wonder how many people burnt their fingers!

Cheryl Leigh said...

And merry Christmas to you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks ladies for dropping by. Aren't those old traditions fascinating?
And yes, I think there would have been lots of fingers burned during Snap Dragon.

Allison Butler said...

Hi Suzi,

Sorry I'm late but thanks so much for the wonderful post on festive food and fun. I LOVE Christmas food and always seem to need an afternoon nap before having another serving for dinner:)
I also LOVE having fun but have never heard of the game Snap Dragon.

Super congrats on your new release. The Viscount's Pleasure House sounds deliciously HOT!