Victorians loved Christmas. That’s a timeless truth — many contemporary yuletide traditions started during the period, like parlor Christmas trees, extravagant feasts with big hunks of meat, and hot mulled drinks. Holidays became synonymous with hedonism. (We’ve all seen the Muppet Christmas Carol, right?) However, there are a few Victorian customs that pushed things a little over the edge.
Snapdragon, a fun-for-the-family Christmas Eve tradition, was a hazardous drinking game for all who played. The rules were simple: In a large shallow bowl, place approximately two dozen raisins (plums, grapes, and almonds also work in a pinch). Pour a bottle of brandy over the raisins, letting them swim up to the top. Light the bowl on fire. Then quickly gather around the bowl, and one by one, each player must grab the raisins from the brandy-soaked fruit inferno with their bare hands. Once a player has caught one of those scorching suckers, casually extinguish it by popping it in your mouth. Ouch.
This wasn’t a one-off game created by some drinking buddies after a long night: It was a real, time-honored tradition. It was so popular in fact, there were even poems written about it:
“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!”
So if your family gets bored this holiday season, this is one way to discover the true meaning of Christmas: lighting stuff on fire with liquor.