Christmas and Twelfth Night parties were times of particular fun and frivolity. Parlor games, like snapdragon and bullet pudding made up a large part of the fun.
They were played by all classes of society and often involved overstepping the strict bound of propriety. These games often provided the opportunity for flirtation and communication between the sexes that otherwise would have been forbidden, thus their popularity.
Losers often paid a forfeit, which could be an elaborate penalty or dare, but more often were a thinly disguised machination for getting a kiss which might indeed leave the loser feeling like a winner after all. Often, forfeits were accumulated all evening, until the hostess would ‘cry the forfeits’ and they would all be redeemed.
Here are a few more games that might have been played during holiday parties of the Regency.
The king or queen occupied a chair in the center of the room. The courtiers would then copy the monarch’s movements with losing their decorum. Any number of simple or vulgar actions might be attempted to cause laughter among the courtiers, thus resulting in a forfeit.
Post and pair
Was a quick card game. Each player is dealt three cards. The winning hand was a pair of kings, queens or jacks, or otherwise highest ranking pair.
Players took on the positions of a famous painting, nursery rhyme, or play and remained still and on display for those not participating in the scene.
Raisins were piled in a bowl, topped with brandy and lit on fire. Players would try to snatch raisins out of the blue brandy-flames and eat them without getting burned—or lighting anything else aflame. The guest with the most raisins is destined to find true love in the upcoming year.
While brandy burns with a relatively cool flame, I’m not sure I would suggest this for the next family Christmas party. Though not nearly so dramatic charades is probably much safer!
Flour was piled into a high mound and a bullet placed on the top. Players cut slices out of the flour pile with a knife without dislodging the bullet. If the bullet fell, the player had to retrieve the bullet from the flour with their teeth.
One, of the party is made to quit the room until the rest determined what task he will be required to perform. The task can be as simple as snuffing a candle, for a novice player, or as complex as kneeling before another player, removing their ring and placing it on the finger of the other player, for an experienced player. The player is guided in divining his task by the playing of music from soft or loud. When the player is close to the object or action he must do next, the music becomes louder until it stops when he has gotten it right. The further away the player the softer the music. If the player in despair gives up, a forfeit must be paid and another player takes his place.
Each person is provided with a piece of ribbon. One player stands in the center of the room and holds one end of each ribbon. The others circle around that player and each takes a lose end of ribbon. The player in the center then calls ‘pull’ or ‘let go.’ If he says let go, all the players must pull on their ribbons. If he says pull they must let go their ends. The center player continues to quickly call instructions until one player makes a mistake. Players who make errors must pay forfeits.
Revel, Rachel. ‘Winter Evening Pastimes or The Merry Maker’s Companion’. (1825)
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