British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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DEC. 25.]                         CHRISTMAS DAY.                                   463
this sport:—It is a kind of play, in which brandy is set on fire, and raisins thrown into it, which those who are unused to the sport are afraid to take out, but which may be safely snatched by a quick motion and put blazing into the mouth, which being closed, the fire is at once extinguished. A correspondent of N. & Q. (2nd & vol. vii. p. 277) suggests as a derivation the German schnapps, spirit, and drache, dragon, and that it is equivalent to spirit-fire. The game has also been called flap- and slap-dragon at different times. Shaks-peare, for example, in the second part of Henry IV. act ii. sc. 4, makes Falstaff answer:
"And drinks off candles' ends for flap-dragons"
And in Love's Labour's Lost, act v. sc. 1:
H Thou art easier swallowed than & flap-dragon."
See also the Tatler, No. 85.
Christmas Sports.—Among the various games and sports of an olden Christmas, says Dr. Eimbault, were card-playing, chess, and draughts, jack-pudding in the hall; fiddlers and musicians, who were regaled with a black-jack of beer and a Christmas pie; also singing the wassail, scrambling for nuts, cakes, and apples; dancing round standards decorated with evergreens in the streets; the famous old hobby-horse, hunting owls and squirrels, the fool plough, hot cockles, and the game of hoodraan-blind.—-N. & Q. 2nd S. vol. xii. p. 489.
Christmas Tree.—Various suggestions have been made as to the origin of the Christmas tree. Mr. Timbs, in his Something for Everybody (1861, p. 127), suggests its being traceable to the ancient Egyptians and their palm-tree, which produces a branch every month, and therefore held to be emblematical of the year. The Germans may be said to claim it as peculiar to themselves, as being indicative of their attachment to Christianity; they identify it with the apostolic labours of St. Maternus, one of the earliest, if not the very first, of the preachers of the Gospel among them. They have a legend of his sleeping under a fir-tree, and of a miracle that occurred on that occasion. Mr. MacCabe (N. & Q. 3rd S. vol. viii. p. 489), however, thinks the Christmas tree is traceable to the Roman Saturnalia, and was not improbably first imported into Germany with the conquering legions of
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