Guest post by Rebecca H. McCormick. Rebecca is a writer and editor based in Fairfax, Virginia. She has a passion for history education and holds an MA in History of Decorative Arts. Rebecca believes that hands-on history and interacting with objects helps learning come alive for children and adults.
‘Tis the season for getting cozy and playing games as a family. As the days get shorter, you can dust off your Monopoly, the Royal Game of Goose, or perhaps your senet board from Ancient Egypt Unboxed. But there is one historic holiday game that we would love to share, but you absolutely should not play: snap-dragon.
While you might think of snapdragons as those lovely summer blossoms with the funny little face, snap-dragon is also a game with roots as far back as the sixteenth century. Sometimes called flap-dragon, it was referenced by Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Agatha Christie. Eighteenth-century writer Richard Steele described it as “the wantonness of the thing was to see each other look like a demon, as we burnt ourselves, and snatched out the fruit.”
So how do you play? First, children would place raisins in a shallow dish. Then, brandy or another liquor would be poured into the pan, partially covering the raisins. Here comes the part we cannot endorse. Children would crowd around the dish, light it on fire, and reach into the flames. The goal would be to snatch the flaming raisin from the pan and pop it into your mouth without getting burned–or getting only a little singed. Perhaps that was easier said than done!
This game persisted through the nineteenth century when Victorian parlor games flourished, and some especially daring families still play snap-dragon around Christmas time.
Interested in learning more about historic games? Check out our Winter Holidays Unboxed Downloadable Lesson for games with less fire involved.