Tag Archives: Christmas games

Novel Ways to Distribute Christmas Gifts: 1911-12, 1921

Clad as a Christmas tree and ready to distribute the presents.

Clad as a Christmas tree and ready to distribute the presents.

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.

“Blind man’s bluff is little better than an insurrection:” Christmas Games: 1900

christmas-games

Why people should celebrate Christmas by playing games, is at first sight by no means plain. What possible connection is there between the Christmas anniversary and the noise, confusion, and laughter of Christmas games? When the Queen’s birthday arrives we do not feel it to be necessary to have our hair cut, or to sit on our top-hats and smash them. The recurrence of Whit Sunday does not bring with it an irresistible desire to break the household crockery or to kill the cat. Yet it would be quite as rational to do these things on the anniversaries just mentioned as it is to play games at Christmas. What, then, is the explanation of our universal custom of celebrating Christmas with games?

It will be noted that an invariable characteristic of Christmas games is their noisiness. The game with which the mistletoe is associated is necessarily noisy; Sir Roger de Coverley involves more or less uproar of an alleged musical character; and blind man’s bluff is little better than an insurrection. A quiet Christmas game is apparently never played. We thus see that noise is an essential feature of Christmas games, and this fact will probably give us a clue to their origin.

The savage has but two ways of celebrating any important event—either he over-eats himself, or he makes a horrible noise. If he can do both, so much the better. When Christmas arrives we imitate the savage with disgraceful fidelity. We gorge ourselves with roast goose or roast turkey, and we play the noisiest games that can be played outside of the football ground. Of course, we are unconscious that we are imitating savages; our conduct is simply the result of heredity. Thousands of years ago our remote ancestor, the cave man, celebrated his chief holiday— say the anniversary of the day on which he killed and ate his worst enemy—by feasting on boiled leg of rhinoceros, and by subsequently drumming as loudly as possible on the upturned and empty kettle. In these days we are not cannibals, but at Christmas we approach as closely as possible to cannibalism by eating too much roast goose. We no longer take pleasure in beating on the bottom of a copper kettle, but we feel instinctively that our greatest festival must be celebrated with noise. Thus we can explain, by the theory of heredity, the origin of our two chief Christmas customs. And the explanation is doubtless right, for, as we all know, heredity is now the correct scientific explanation of everything—from the shape of our skulls to the way in which we lie in our beds.

While we can thus account for the noise of Christmas games, we have not yet accounted for the games themselves. Why, when there are so many ways of producing noise, do we select games as the appropriate method of producing a satisfactory Christmas uproar?

What are the conditions necessary to Christmas games? They are—first, the presence of a large number of persons of both sexes, and second, their desire to endure one another with decency. Take twenty people of assorted sexes and shut them up in the drawing room on Christmas night, and each one feels that he must do something to enable him to live through the evening. To sit still and reflect that the quiet and secluded corner, which the safe digestion of the Christmas dinner so imperiously demands, is unattainable, and that the evening must be spent in conversing with uninteresting people upon tiresome themes, is something that no man will willingly do if there is a possible alternative. Games are intended to supply this alternative, and to enable the Christmas sufferer temporarily to forget his sorrows. Probably they accomplish this end to some extent, but it may be fairly questioned whether the remedy is not worse than the disease.

The supposition that there can be any pleasure derived from playing Christmas games cannot be for a moment entertained. We all know that it is not true. Take the ceremonies of the mistletoe — ceremonies which have no real title to the name of game, although they are arbitrarily classed under that head. Can there be any pleasure in kissing the wrong girl under the mistletoe? Of course, it will be said that you may kiss the right girl, but if she is only one among a dozen girls, the proportion of undesirable kisses to the one desired kiss is preposterously large. Then, can a man take any pleasure in seeing the girl of his heart kissed by other men? No matter how heavily he may have drugged himself with roast goose, the spectacle is one which fills him with secret and inexpressible rage.

There may be a sort of mild pleasure in seeing a man whom you cordially detest groping around the room with a bandage over his eyes, and occasionally abrading himself against the sharp corners of the furniture, but it is a pleasure wholly unworthy of a Christian man. The game of blindman’s bluff is exhausting, undignified, and certain to involve one in difficulties with the girls whose dresses are torn by the unconscious feet of the blindfolded man. It is true that there are redeeming points, even in blindman’s bluff; for is there not a case on record of a man who, while blindfolded, caught the family cat, and in his excitement mistook the cat’s fur for the back hair of his maiden aunt? His triumphant proclamation that he had caught Aunt Jane induced the latter to change her will the very next day, thereby depriving the blindfolded nephew of a comfortable legacy to which he had looked forward for years. Still, poetic justice seldom overtakes the man who consents to be blindfolded, and those occasions when a Christmas guest finds it possible to extract even the feeblest pleasure from blindman’s-buff are extremely rare.

Mr Fezziwig's Ball, British Library

Mr Fezziwig’s Ball, British Library

Sir Roger is simply an athletic exercise, falsely called a game. It is as tiresome as golf, and nearly as exhausting as cycling. And yet even middle-aged men who have within an hour or two eaten a Christmas dinner, are made to engage in the violent inanities of Sir Roger on Christmas evening. On the following day, when in the agonies of abdominal remorse, a man is ready to take a solemn oath never again to meddle with that fatal sport, but as sure as the next Christmas sees him still alive, he will end Christmas evening with the inevitable Sir Roger.

It may be unhesitatingly asserted that no one enjoys Christmas games who is more than ten years of age. It need hardly be said that children of that age should be in bed on Christmas evening instead of being permitted to infest the drawing-room. Their enjoyment of Christmas  games is, therefore, no excuse for the latter. We might as well excuse bull baiting on the ground that it gives pleasure to the dogs. We play Christmas games solely because an hereditary custom compels us so to do. Nobody who has arrived at years of discretion enjoys them, and ninety-nine people in a hundred detest them.

When we think of the quiet, comfortable games with which Christmas might be celebrated, the objectionable character of our present Christmas games becomes the more apparent. There is the delightful game known as ” Two in the Conservatory.” It is played by a young man and a young woman. The two retire to a quiet corner in the conservatory where they are concealed from view by flowers and vines, and there discuss in a low tone such pleasing themes as the Best Route to the North Pole, or the Kinetic Theory of Gases. Any number of young men and young women can play at this simple but charming game provided a sufficient number of quiet corners can be found in the conservatory. It can even be played on the stairs almost as well as in the conservatory, and the same young man, if he is a sufficiently accomplished player, can play a half a dozen sets with half a dozen different young women in the course of a single evening. The enormous superiority of this game to anything that is done under the mistletoe must be apparent even to the most careless observer. It involves none of the publicity, the romping, and the other disagreeable features of the latter game, though it must be confessed that, in some instances, the loser has had good cause to regret that he ever attempted to play it.

Then there is the pipe game. This is played only by men, but, perhaps, that is one of the advantages of it. The player withdraws to some quiet place, either within or without the house. Having seated himself he fills an ordinary brier-wood pipe with good tobacco, and lights the tobacco with a match. Almost any match may be used, but as a rule the wooden match is used by the best players.

The player can either finish his game in one innings with the pipe, or he can refill it and enjoy another innings. Men who habitually play this game assert that it is peculiarly adapted for Christmas evening, especially if the Christmas dinner has been a good one.

That it is vastly preferable to blindman’s-buff, or Sir Roger, is admitted by nearly all medical men; except, of course, young practitioners, who are anxious to add to the number of their patients, and look upon the usual Christmas games, with their subsequent harvest of sufferers from dyspepsia, as something especially designed for the good of the medical faculty.

I may mention one more admirable Christmas game. It is called Bedfordshire, and is one of the earliest games with which we make acquaintance in our childhood. The player retires from the drawing-room about an hour after dinner is over, and just before the orthodox Christmas games begin. When he reaches his room he removes the greater part of his clothing, puts on his night-gown, and after extinguishing the light, gets into bed. There he remains until half an hour before breakfast time on the following morning. This game ought to be a great favourite, and when a man has once learned to play it on Christmas evening, he can never be induced to play any other.

I have suffered much from Christmas games. I have played blindman’s-buff and caught the corner of a particularly hard pianoforte with my forehead. I have undergone the toil of Sir Roger, and caught pneumonia in consequence of being overheated. I have been compelled to kiss girls under the mistletoe who, I am certain, did not want to be kissed by me, and whom I certainly did not want to kiss. On the other hand, I have the memory of one delightful Christmas Eve which I spent in a rational manner. I was nearly seven hundred miles distant from my home, and I went to dine with a bachelor uncle who warned me that he detested the practice of giving Christmas presents, and uniformly refused to accept any. There was no one at the dinner-table except my uncle and myself, and about eight o’clock that excellent man said to me, “Now, nephew, I’m going to bed. There is the port, and there are the cigars, and you’ll find plenty of books in the library. Good-night!” The port and the cigars were admirable, and in the library I found a volume of Guy De Maupassant which I had never previously seen. I went to bed at ten o’clock, and I have ever since considered that my excellent uncle’s idea of entertaining Christmas guests was worthy of universal imitation.

Cassell’s Magazine, Volume 20 1900: pp 68-71

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Sir Roger de Coverley is one of the oldest and most popular country-dances. Two lines of dancers face one other and when the music starts, dash into the centre aisle, twirling their partners round about, and then dashing back to their places. Depending on the tempo which the musicians set, it can devolve into a rout. The Mistletoe Game (which has, Mrs Daffodil believes, an American cousin called “Spin the Bottle”) is equally fraught with danger.

Mrs Daffodil thoroughly approves of the game of Bedfordshire and wishes that she could play it more often in the busy holiday season. She also applauds the Liberty Hall philosophy of the narrator’s bachelor uncle, although she does not mind receiving Christmas presents—in a rational manner, of course.

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.

 

Diamonds at Breakfast: Christmas among the Millionaires:

lavish christmas tree

Christmas With the 400

THE VANDERBILTS FAVOR OLD-TIME SIMPLICITY

Railway Magnates Pass Around Diamonds at Breakfast

Great Swells Toboggan Down Stairs on Dinner Trays and the Best Flyers Take Prizes

Millionaire Youngsters and Their Presents.

New York, Dec. 23.

The smart set is conspicuous by its absence form town on all holiday occasions, and of late years the Christmas festivities are almost without exception arranged to take place in the country.

Christmas is a house day, and city houses, however magnificent, are never as homelike as country houses. The country house Christmas, with its gathering of young people, the great Yule logs burning in the hall, and jollity everywhere, is one of the best of all the old-time customs which have been revived of late.

Probably nine houses out of ten have a tree as part of the festivities, and if the personator of Santa Claus be a man of talent and understands his “make up,” not only in guise, but in spirit, he is a genuine delight not only to the children, but all round.

I remember one tree at Mr. J.S. Ellis’ place on the Sound, which was set up in the dark, wainscoted hall, around which stood grim coats of mail the wall ornamented with odd and curious weapons effectively grouped. The steel and armor glistening and reflecting back the yellow firelight and the twinkling lights from the tree, caused the modern American house to assume quite the air of feudal age and dignity. Mr. Heninger did “St. Nicholas” with a distinguished effect.

This season is regarded as essentially the children’s time, and all the resources of the house go to making them a holiday. Except among close and intimate friends and relatives little or no exchange of presents is made by “grown up” people.

When a man is under great obligations as to hospitality accepted, if there are children in the house, he has his opportunity to display liberality to a large extent, and his generosity can take any form according to his means, from a good sized bond to the merest trifle. But an exchange of gifts, unless between fiancées, is not considered good form. Flowers are always permissible, and, as in France, the New Year sees the florist reap untold gains from the large quantities of flowers and plants.

THE BIGGEST AND LONGEST STOCKINGS

I know of more than one country house where the Christmas tree is given almost entirely for the pleasure and entertainment of the children of servants and dependents about the place. It is made quite a feature of the holiday festivities at “Plaisance,” Mr. James Waterbury’s beautiful home, and the Waterbury children themselves derive no end of fun and excitement in arranging to make the yearly spree a success.

Purely fin de siècle are these youngsters in many respects and full of much wordly wisdom; with it all they insist upon having their own Christmas gifts in the old orthodox fashion and secure the biggest and longest stockings that can be borrowed or begged, which they hang by the big open fireplace in the play room; and the gray of dawn sees them eagerly investigating their contents.

THE VANDERBILT CHRISTMAS AT SEA

Mr. Willie P. Vanderbilt has always made a great feature of the entertainment side of Christmas. His country house on Long Island has been the scene of much lavish holiday hospitality.

Mrs. Vanderbilt, like all women of taste, does not believe in making Xmas gifts of great value. Her idea is that presents on such an occasion should be valuable rather by association than intrinsically.

This season the W.K. Vanderbilt’s will pass their Christmas at sea—or perhaps in Madeira. However, the festivities on board the Valiant promises to be as jolly as if the roof tree of the Oakdale house and the winter sky of Long Island was above them. Just before the ship sailed certain large boxes and crates marked with significant names came on board, and the coops full of live fowls gave an assurance that the good cheer of Christmas would not be wanting.

WHAT MRS. CORNELIUS VANDERBILT SAYS OF CHRISTMAS.

Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt believes in old customs. She says: “We are thoroughly old-fashioned and orthodox in our Christmas ideas. We believe in stockings, Christmas trees, turkey and plum pudding. Possibly my Puritan ancestors would have considered my plum pudding sinfully symbolic, but we have outgrown that sentiment. To my mind the essence of the day should be peace and good will and universal kindliness.

“So far as gifts are concerned, I incline towards simplicity. Always a moderate gift, if chosen in the line of a person’s mental life, is better than an expensive one not in such accord.

“For instance, one of my brothers-in-law would be more pleased with an obsolete, last-century edition of some rare old book than if you were to give him a handsome steam yacht or a railway!

“The best and most appreciated present is the one into whose production the most personality has entered. I value more a poor picture painted for me by a friend than  good one bought in a shop.”

HOW A RAILWAY MAGNATE GAVE HIS CHRISTMAS PRESENTS LAST YEAR.

Occasionally, people give gifts in a very eccentric fashion. Last year a railway magnate, wishing to add his contribution to the general hilarity, and yet not inclined to favour one member of his family more than another, expended much time and money in collecting a sufficient number of matched solitaire diamonds. These he took out of his pocket at the Christmas breakfast, poured them on a plate, and had them passed around the table.

You can easily imagine the novel method and the superb gifts combined brought down vigorous applause from the delighted recipients.

CHRISTMAS SPORT

To-day, as I have intimated, the more old-fashioned and moderate a Christmas can be made the more effective it is. I know a very jolly house-party invited to a great country place on Long Island this ear, and all sort of fun is in anticipation.

As it is a riding country, some rare sport has been arranged for the morning entertainment. The pleasant old game of “Quintain” has been revived, wherein, if the rider hits the mark fairly with is pole, he gets a prize, while if he misses it, he is banged on the back with a bag of flour. There will probably be more misses than hits, to the amusement of the spectators.

On Christmas eve the dipping for apples is to be played. This is properly a Hallowe’en game, but on this occasion it is resorted to as a means of distributing the Christmas gift, and the fun will be intensified by the fact that each apple will contain in place of a core, some jewelled souvenir of the day.

As our ancestors were rather given to horseplay, there is a good deal of romping connected with a modern Christmas party. In fact, a very joyful sport is to toboggan down stairs on a dinner tray. This is a pet amusement at a certain country house up the Hudson, which is provided with a most convenient oak staircase. The most successful “flyer” gets the pick of the gifts, which are provided more for the fun of the thing than for their intrinsic value, but are selected with such care that each guest is proud and happy  to wear for many a long day the beautiful set ring or odd jewel won by the dinner tray process.

This form of tobogganing generally results in a “spill” at the bottom of the stairs and consequent bruises; but it is great run and is especially popular in England where his rather stout royal highness, the Prince of Wales, is a noted performer.

There is always a good deal of Saturnalia about the house-party country Christmases, and it is well for a guest to keep his room door carefully locked lest he should find on retiring that a merry party have been making “hay” with his effects, and that possibly the legs and arms of his habiliments have been sewed up, or that some man, nautically skilled, has done his sheets up into hard balls, with the ends craftily hidden. This latter trick is called “reefing,” and unless the victim knows the process of unknotting the ball, he is sure to pass a sheetless night.

GIFTS FOR YOUNGSTER MILLIONAIRES.

Boys are more than ever interested in all outdoor sports and athletic games, since the vogue is for all such sport on the part of their elders; and the gift the small boy of recent years demands of his parents, if apparently simple, is apt to be costly. I really do not know a boy belonging to a good house that does not possess machinery enough to stock a mill.

A really clever boy is apt to suggest and get his preference in the way of presents. The Iselin boys, following in the footsteps of their father and his friends, delight in possessing large sailing models of the crack yachts of the day. Success has its penalties, as Mr. Oliver Iselin discovered when his small boy refused to be satisfied until he had a promise of a duplicate for his Christmas stocking of the fleet Vigilant, which won the America’s cup the other day. As there is but one man who can properly do this work, and he charges $300 a boat, Christmas gifts come high in some families.

The modes of giving gifts are as various as the gifts themselves. In one well-known family it is the fashion to enfold the gift in the napkin on the Xmas breakfast table.

So far as the children are concerned no wealth of money-tips or expensive toys, given in an ordinary manner, can make up for the fun of the time-honored morning stocking with its miscellaneous and crowded contents. There is one dear little girl I know whose Christmases are spent in town. She is an only child. Her mother tells me she would be perfectly miserable without the morning scramble and excitement of the stocking.

They also have a wonderful tree for her that is placed in the big library and lighted with innumerable little colored electric lights which can be turned on and off at will. On this tree are gifts for her little friends, and the whole Christmas week for her is one of prolonged joy. She is allowed to keep open house, so to speak, and for all who come in an appropriate gift is forthcoming.

ISABEL DUNDAS.

Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 24 December 1893: p. 19

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil fears that Miss Dundas is badly misinformed if she believes that a “Saturnalia” consists of apple-pie beds and toboggan trays. In Mrs Daffodil’s extensive experience, it is more likely to involve tiptoeing in the corridors and an intelligent hostess who fathoms the intricacies of appropriately allocating adjoining rooms to those who wish to indulge in clandestine revels. The distribution of lavish gifts in apple cores also makes a present of a diamond bracelet to a favourite mistress less conspicuous.

The Christmases of the Vanderbilts and other millionaires were extensively reported by the press, possibly to allow those unable to scatter loose diamonds at breakfast—a hazardous practice at best if there are small children at the table—to live vicariously.

A previous holiday story of a millionaire’s Christmas cottage built in a night for his children, may be found here.

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.

 

Novel Ways to Distribute Christmas Gifts: 1911-12, 1921

Clad as a Christmas tree and ready to distribute the presents.

Clad as a Christmas tree and ready to distribute the presents.

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 which, without her, would have been a matter for assisting the police with their inquiries. If the truth were told, Mrs Daffodil knows several individuals who deserve to receive large lumps of genuine coal instead of cleverly wrapped gifts.