This post was previously published in December, 2013.
As we have seen, it isn’t enough to merely purchase and wrap presents in the traditional snowy tissue paper. To meet the newly-elevated standards, which, frankly, Mrs Daffodil finds rather nouveau-riche, one must disguise those presents in ingenious wrappings and, further, distribute them in unusual ways. The Queen of Italy, for example, distributed her Christmas presents in 1886 by lottery, The Prince of Naples and the Queen held satin bags—one filled with names and the other numbers. Mrs Daffodil imagines that the prizes on that occasion were far more lavish than the beef and blankets distributed to English estate workers. Here are several other instances of up-to-date present distribution:
A LIVING CHRISTMAS TREE
An animated Christmas tree would prove the greatest possible success. The part of the Christmas tree should be played by a tall child of twelve or thirteen, dressed to represent a fir tree. A white princess petticoat makes a good foundation, upon which wide flounces of dark green crinkled paper can be tacked. Several stiff white muslin petticoats should be also worn to stick out the dress at the bottom.
The “tree” must be hung with strings of silver tinsel, very light Christmas tree ornaments, strings of small gaily coloured crackers and a variety of bright penny toys, which should be lightly sewn onto the dress right through to the princess lining, for the weight of them would tear the paper.
The “Christmas tree” must have a cap adorned with a Christmas star and must stand in a red earthenware bread pan to represent the pot, the heavier presents being piled up round her feet.
A tiny brother clad as a wee Santa Claus with a red flannel dressing gown, adorned with bands of cotton wool spangled with hoar frost, wearing a cotton wool bear; or a wee sister as a Christmas tree fairy, in a frilly pink crinkled paper frock, with wings of silver paper and a twinkling Christmas tree star in her hair, armed with a pair of scissors, may be introduced into the scheme to cut off and distribute the gifts.
THE POSTMAN HIMSELF
“Postman’s Knock” has a delightfully Christmassy sound, and if well carried out is the greatest possible success.
The part of Postman should be played by father, uncle, or big elder brother, though, failing these, a feminine postman, providing she wears the traditional postman’s cap and a man’s overcoat and a sprig of holly in her buttonhole.
The one absolute essential is that the postman should bring with him a big bag filled with stamped and addressed parcels.
If the present distributing is to take place immediately after tea at a small Christmas party, a lively game, such as Hunt the Slipper or Blind Man’s Bluff, should be started and when the fun is at its highest a double postman’s knock comes at the door—the game stops abruptly and as the children glance wonderingly at one another, the hostess, having answered the knock, returns to say, “A parcel for Miss Mary Dash. Go out to the postman, dear, and fetch it.”
Out goes the small recipient to return a moment later with a fully addressed parcel, which he or she proceeds to unwrap, to the intense interest of the other children. A second knock heralds the return of the postman, who this time asks for Master Harold Dash, and so the game goes on, until each member of the company has been outside.
In order to make the parcels thoroughly realistic looking used stamps should be collected for some little time beforehand and a few gummed onto each parcel which, having been wrapped up in brown paper and string, may be further adorned with one or two Christmas seals.
A MAGIC COAL BOX
A magic Christmas coal box creates much amusement. For this small-sized presents must be chosen, in order that they may be wrapped up in black paper to resemble lumps of coal.
The “coal” is now piled into a big brass coal scuttle, or round witch’s cauldron, before being carried into the room, and the children are invited to come forward one by one to take a knob of coal with a pair of tongs provided for the purpose.
When they discover that each one contains a wee Christmas gift their delight knows no bounds, and one dare predict that such a novel form of “lucky dip” would prove an equal success at a grown-up evening party.
London Evening News 19 December 1911: p. 7
Distributing the Gifts
Going to the post-office is a jolly method of distribution. Pasteboard and brown paper, aided by judicious grouping of chairs and tables, easily transform a room into a post-office, and a wisely selected postmaster may make the collection of mail an occasion of much merriment. Have general delivery and lock boxes, and at the general delivery window see that each person is properly identified.
A Christmas hunt is always exciting. The clue, given at the breakfast table, is written on a slip of paper in some such words as these: “Pass the parlor, shun the hall, seek the summer kitchen wall.” In that vicinity the gift will be found, wrapped and addressee. It adds to the fun if the directions lead first to other rhymes, three or four being followed up before the hidden treasure is found….
Still another hunt takes the form of a polar expedition and is great sport in the country when there is snow enough for it. Immediately after breakfast the entire party sets out for a walk. When they turn toward home, the host or someone selected as guide informs them that supplies are hidden along the way in various caches and they will do well to look out for them. Each cache is merely a mound of snow covering lightly a quantity of gift packages, securely wrapped. There need be only three or four mounds and the gifts should be divided promiscuously among them. If the walk has been long, the first cache to be found—that is, the one farthest from home—may hide a box of cookies, which will be haled joyfully and will make the gifts in the next cache an even greater surprise.
The last cache to be reached may be the centerpiece on the dining table. Here it should be of cotton glittering with diamond dust with the pole rising from the middle of it, a fat, squatty pole with a jolly Santa Claus top.
Small gifts may be concealed in a Jack Horner pie, brought to the table when dinner is finished. Choose a deep, round pan of a size to fit the number of the party and put into it the present, each daintily wrapped and marked with the name of the one to receive it. The Herald [Algiers, LA], 1921
One might also call upon a conjuror to hand out the Christmas gifts:
Next comes the conjuror, and especially the old-fashioned conjuror—he who produces hens from tea canisters, doves from beneath flower pots and yards of orange-coloured satin ribbon from his mouth. The “pocket conjuror,” whose skill lies in his fingers, is the one most generally met with, and all his apparatus, as his name implies goes into his pockets. He occasionally finds himself in a somewhat awkward situation, as hostesses have hit upon the idea of distributing presents through the medium of the conjuror. At a recent party the unfortunate entertainer was made responsible for the production of a large elephant and a wheelbarrow.
London Standard 27 December 1912: p. 3
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Here in the Servants’ Hall, we do not require a conjuror or “lucky dip” to distribute his Lordship’s Boxing Day bounty: a dress length wrapped in tissue paper for the females and tobacco for the men. Mrs Daffodil is anticipating a length of black taffeta and a little extra in the pay envelope in token of his Lordship’s appreciation of her handling a delicate affair for one of his cousins, which, without her, would have been a matter for assisting the police with their inquiries. If the truth were told, Mrs Daffodil knows of several individuals who deserve to receive large lumps of genuine coal instead of cleverly wrapped gifts.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.