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Victorians' Christmas Parlor Games Will Leave You Burned, Bruised, And Puking

When the family gets together for Christmas these days, there's gossip, eating, watching TV together, and maybe a game of Uno or Monopoly. During the Victorian era, TV was yet to come, and parlor games provided the excitement and violence we get from our home screens today. Violence? Yes, some of the games they played for holiday cheer were downright sadistic, like the one called Snapdragon.  

Traditionally played on Christmas Eve, players of Snapdragon must find themselves a broad, shallow bowl, and then prepare to risk their health. Into this bowl should be poured two dozen raisins. If raisins are hard to come by, almonds, grapes or plums will suffice. You should then pour a bottle of brandy into the bowl so that the raisins bob up and down like drowning flies. Place the bowl on a sturdy table, turn the lights down low, and then, with appropriate panache, ignite the brandy.

To play Snapdragon, arrange your family and friends around the blazing bowl so that their faces are lit in a demonic fashion and then, one by one, take turns plunging your hands into the flames in order to try and grab a raisin. If you can accomplish this, promptly extinguish the flaming raisin by popping it into your mouth and eating it.

As one contemporary commenter wrote, the game “provided a considerable amount of laughter and merriment at the expense of the unsuccessful competitors.”

That's only one game. Other Victorian parlor games involved falling over obstacles, drinking, punishments, and ghost stories. Read about them at Atlas Obscura.


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