Childermas & Christmas Games with the Austen’s December 28th

Bullet Pudding

On the fourth day of Christmas
My true love sent to me
Four calling birds, Three French hens, Two turtle-doves
And a partridge in a pear tree.

Holy Innocents Day is dedicated to children on the day Herod ordered the slaughter of children aged two or under, in an attempt to kill the prophesied Messiah.

It is, therefore, as far as folklore is concerned, an ill-omened day so don’t begin any new enterprise or, indeed, attempt to go back to work. And remember, as Childermas falls on a Thursday this year, Thursdays throughout the year are all ill-omened days. Weather wise, as the fourth day of Christmas is warm, expect the fourth month, April to be similarly warm.

So, despite your desire to go back to work, it’s best to spend the time in Christmas Games. The one I remember, most fondly, is pick-up-sticks or spillikins. You drop a pile of sticks onto a table-top and then have to pick up as many sticks as you can without disturbing any others. You go ends when you move a stick. Different sticks have different values.

Pick-up-sticks or Spillikins

Another game we played at parties was, I discovered when researching for my Jane Austen’s Christmas Walk, also played in the Austen family. They called in Bullet Pudding. I don’t think we had a name for it, but it involves putting flour in a bowl, upending it on a plate, putting a bullet (in our case a coin) on the top. A knife is placed by the side, people dance around the plate, and whoever the knife is pointing at when the music stops, has to cut a slice of the flour mountain.

Eventually, the coin will collapse, and the hapless winner, according to Jane’s niece, Fanny.

‘must poke about with their noise & chins until they find it & then take it out with their mouths, which makes them strange figures all covered with flour, but the worst is that you must not laugh for fear of the flour getting up your nose & mouth & choking you. You must not use your hands in taking the bullet out.’

In my family, we pushed the winner’s head into the flour to maximise the fun.

Christmas at Godmersham Park

1811 to 1812 Fanny Knight, Jane Austen’s niece, writing to a friend Miss Dorothy Chapman said:

‘I don’t know whether I told you that the Miss Morris’s are at home for the Christmas holidays. They are very nice girls and have contributed a good deal to our entertainment.

None of us caught the whooping cough and have been very well the whole time.
We have, in general, had cards, snapdragons, bullet pudding etc on any particular evening and Whist, Commerce and others and Tickets were the favourite games.

I think when cards fail, the boys played every evening at draughts, chess, and backgammon.’

Snapdragons is a very dangerous game! A tray is filled with brandy, raisins are sprinkled in; the brandy set on fire, and the game is to retrieve and eat the raisins without receiving first degree burns.

Commerce and Tickets are both gambling games. Tickets, played by exchanging lottery tickets, and commerce is a three card poker type game played with counters

Other games mentioned by Fanny

Hunt the Slipper, Oranges and Lemons, Wind the Jack, lighting a Candle in Haste; Spare Old Noll.

Santa for the Elite

I enclose a link to a discussion about the originals of the American Santa as a method for the elite to keep control of the rowdy working class in New York. The argument, in a nutshell, is that the folk Christmas was outside and rowdy, while Clement Moore who wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas” introduced a domesticated indoor version of Father Christmas. It’s a fascinating spin on the traditional story.

First written on December 28th 2022, revised and republished in December 2023

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