In Georgian and Regency England, the Christmas holidays were spent a little differently than we spend them now (the Twelve Days of Christmas actually started Christmas Day and ended January 5, the day before Epiphany), but one thing hasn't changed: friends and family gathered together to celebrate. There were parties, balls, and masques to enjoy, but there were also plenty of games to be played at home, too.
Here are a few of the games they enjoyed. Some might be familiar to us, while others sound downright dangerous!
Bullet Pudding: This is not a pudding (dessert) at all, but a very messy game in which a large bowl is filled with flour,. The flour is mounded so it looks like a pudding. A bullet is laid on the top of the mound. Players take turns "slicing" the "pudding" with a knife. The person who is in the act of cutting a slice when the bullet falls into the flour must then dip his or her face into the flour and poke about for the bullet--no hands. The bullet is then retrieved with his or her teeth.
Snapdragon: “Christmas gambol: raisins and almonds being put into a bowl of brandy, and the candles extinguished, the spirit is set on fire, and the company scramble for the raisins.” (Francis Grose Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811). Participants eat the raisins and almonds, and apparently try not to get burned in the process. Snapdragon was popular since the sixteenth-century.
Hot Cockles: One person lays his or her head in another person's lap, hiding one's eyes, and must guess who is striking him from behind.
Apple Bobbing: Just like we do today in the autumn.
Oranges and Lemons: Similar to "London Bridge," participants file in pairs between two players who hold hands in the air, creating an "arch." Participants sing a song, and in the last part, these lines are sung:
Here comes a candle to light you to bed.
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.
(Chip chop, chip chop, the last man's dead.)
|Oranges and Lemons by Agnes Rose Bouvier (1842–92). Public Domain|
Puss in the Corner: Something like tag with five participants, one person ("puss") stands in the center of the room. The other participants stand, one in each corner. They must swap places without being caught by "puss". When one is caught, they become "puss."
Hunt the Slipper: A slipper is hidden in a room and everyone searches for it. The winner got to hide it for the next round.
Spillikins: Similar to Jack Straws or Pick Up Sticks, sticks of wood or ivory are spilled onto a table and must be removed, one by one, without disturbing the others.
Bridge of Sighs or Beast of Burden: A risque-looking game where a gentleman gets down on all fours and a lady sits on his back (he is either a bridge or a beast, depending on the game). Other gentlemen present may kiss the lady!
Rhyming Games: Participants are given three rhyming words and must create a poem with them.
Charades: Participants pantomimed words, activities, or perhaps book titles, much like we do today.
Parlor Theatricals: Using scripts (written by the participants or purchased), participants acted out plays. Home theatricals could be serious business and participants wore costumes and rehearsed the productions.
What games does your family play at Christmastime?
BIO: Susanne Dietze began writing love stories in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she's the award-winning author of almost a dozen historical romances who's seen her work on the ECPA and Publisher's Weekly Bestseller Lists for Inspirational Fiction. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne lives in California and enjoys fancy-schmancy tea parties, genealogy, and curling up on the couch with a costume drama and a plate of nachos.
Her latest release is The Rails to Love Collection.