Tag Archives: Christmas party

“Educated Women of Gentle Birth, Destitute and Alone:” 1903

christmas dinner tableA

The Christmas Table

A Novel Christmas Banquet.

By Elizabeth L. Banks.

“Educated Women of Gentle Birth, Destitute and Alone”

So began the strange invitation to a strange Christmas banquet given a few years ago in New York by a well-known church and society woman.

I attended the banquet in my capacity as newspaper reporter, and I speak of it as “strange” because, indeed, it was the strangest as also the most touching banquet I ever attended.

For a certain part of that Christmas Day I was on duty for my newspaper, and it was my task to report the doings at various charity Christmas feasts which were that day given to the city’s poor.

Altogether merry and jolly I found the partakers of the newsboys’ dinner, when I peeped upon them at the beginning of my round. It fairly did my heart good to see them in their hundreds gathered about immense tables, whereon were turkey and cranberry sauce, and escalloped oysters, and plum puddings, and mince pies and celery, and everything else the Christmas appetite could fancy. I watched them scramble into their seats, grab the turkey-legs with their two hands, bite off the meat, use their knives instead of forks, and their fingers sometimes in place of either.

“Why, say,” said one of the grinning youngsters to me, “w’at ye doin’ at our dinner? You ain’t no newsboy!”

“No,” I answered; “but I’m what might be called a ‘newswoman,’ because I’m going to write all about your Christmas dinner for to-morrow’s paper.”

“Hurrah! Hurrah!” came the chorus from the boys. “Say, fellers, ain’t it fine? This yere lady’s goin’ to write about our dinner for her paper. Say, miss, just put my name in as one o’ the guests, will ye? I’m Billy Snyder. An’ there’s me brother, an’ Sam Jones, too—don’t forget ’em, will ye? Say, just take the names of all of us, an’ print ’em, and when I calls out to-morrer’s paper I’ll shout: ‘Yere’s yer mornin’ paper—all about the newsboys’ dinner—buy a paper, mister, and read all the names of us fellers what was there!'”

It was “merry Christmas” with those newsboys, sure enough. Some good people were giving them a free dinner, and they were enjoying it as only boys of their ilk could enjoy such a feast. There was but one cloud upon their happiness—the fact, which I tried to impart to them as gently as possible, that I could not put their names in the paper because of lack of space. But I got a good report of their merriment, and out again into the white Christmas weather I went, then on a cable car to the “up-town” or fashionable part of New York.

“To Educated Women Of Gentle Birth, Destitute And Alone.—You are invited

by Mrs. __ to a Christmas Dinner here in her house to-day at two o’clock.”

In the drawing-room window of one of the brown-stone houses was the sign, the magnet that had drawn me from the newsboys’ dinner on the east side to another Christmas dinner on the west side. A few days before Christmas the invitation had been published in the various New York newspapers: and then, on Christmas Day, lest any of the wished-for guests might not have read the papers, there shone from the window of the brown-stone mansion the light to guide them thither.

At the door of the drawing-room stood the hostess, receiving her guests.

“A merry Christmas! I am pleased to see you,” was her greeting to each one that passed her. She extended her hand, and several times, as guest after guest passed into the beautiful room beyond, I noticed a pained, half-bewildered look on the face of the hostess, and once or twice her eyes were bright with tears.

No servant stood near to announce the guests, since all were nameless for the day. Some, the hostess recognised as friends of former years; some, I, too, knew as grand dames of a time not long gone by; but to each and all only the cheery greeting, “Merry Christmas! I am pleased to see you,” was given, and, finally, when a hundred of New York’s gentlewomen — “destitute and alone”—had passed through the hospitable portal, the doors of the dining-room were thrown open, and the guests took their places at the tables.

The table linen was of the finest damask, the silver shone resplendent, the china was beautiful and costly, the glasses thin and dainty, and the table decorations were such as only taste and wealth could provide. In front of each cover was a tiny cut-glass vase of flowers.

Around the tables there were gathered sweet-faced women with white hair: women with tired, careworn faces and dark hair; and there were some young girls whose beauty shone out in spite of the melancholy of their eyes. All were well dressed—that is, there was nothing cheap or loud or gaudy about the apparel of the guests—but many of the hats and dresses were a bit old-fashioned, and none of the clothes were absolutely new.

A handsome woman of about forty was wearing a black satin dress: satin which, when purchased, must have cost five or six dollars a yard. Her hat, old and behind the times as it was, showed that it had originally been bought of a certain milliner who is known to supply only the richest of New York’s women with headgear. Her boots were of the finest kid, and had been mended in a neat, though amateurish, way by the wearer. One knew instinctively that her feet were encased in silk hose, doubtless much darned.

“I really could not eat any dinner today,” she said, as she tried to smile up at her hostess. “Just a cup of coffee— that is all. You see, my head…”

But it was not her head. It was her stomach! As I looked at her I knew the woman was starving; that she had got past the ravenously hungry stage. Two days before, perhaps, she might have felt hungry, but now she felt only faint and weak, and craved for her Christmas dinner nothing but a cup of coffee. Some years before, she had been giving charity dinners herself, and called in the children of the poor and fed them in her own palatial home. Her hats and dresses were then of the latest style and make, bought in London and Paris, where she had been accustomed to go every year.

At a table there sat society belles of a quarter of a century ago. There was one woman who had owned her hundreds of slaves before the war between North and South; there was the daughter of an honoured judge; the wife of an absconding defaulter; the widow of a clergyman who bad once preached to one of the wealthiest of eastern congregations; there were some women and girls who were trying hard to earn a living by office work, as dressmakers, as milliners, but who, because they were gentlewomen who had never been trained to pounce upon the “almighty dollar” and catch it as it came near, were failures, and must needs be pushed to the wall by the other working women of New York—the less refined and less dainty, but the stronger and better trained.

When the dinner was over and some of the guests were leaving, a woman I had known in another city a few years previously, and whose entertainments I had many times written up for the society columns of the paper on which I had then held a position, recognised me and turned aside to speak to me.

“You here! You here!” she whispered in an agitated voice. “Surely you cannot be going to write up this as a brilliant social function, with the names of the guests and the description of the gowns we are wearing! Promise me one thing for the sake of the days when I used to help you to fill your society page: you will not put my name in among the names of the guests at this dinner.”

“I am not putting any names in,” I answered. “Indeed, I am to write very little about it, except to say that a dinner to gentlewomen was given this year, and that I hope every Christmas to follow may see another such dinner.”

She pressed my hand, and went out silently. I left the house and continued my reportorial round. How happy were the faces at all the other “charity dinners “! How the idea of being “written up” appealed to the newsboys, and the bootblacks, and the cripples, and the inhabitants of the slums! Truly, it was “merry Christmas,” indeed, at all the other places. There were snipes and cheers, and a gulping down of good things. Only in the brown-stone mansion where a rich gentlewoman presided at a table where were gathered these other gentlewomen, “destitute and alone,” did I find sadness on every face. Yet, of all the Christmas charities, I doubt not that this was the one most needed and most deserved and appreciated by those to whom the invitations were sent out.

As I have said, it all happened a few years ago in New York, and all my Christmases since then have been spent in London. Here also I have, Christmas after Christmas, gone about to report upon the feasts spread for the poor. I have heard the smacking of the newsboys’ lips over the huge bites of prime Christmas roast beef; I have heard the watercress and flower girls counting aloud the plums in the slices of plum-pudding which lay upon their plates; I have seen “the poor” of the East End heartily enjoying their Christmas goose with apple sauce, and I have seen the little children of the mission chapels laughing gleefully as they played with their Christmas toys—all these things have I seen provided by London’s rich and well-to-do for London’s poor.

But not yet have I known of a feast provided for London’s women of gentle birth, “destitute and alone,” of whom there are many hundreds more than there are in New York.

There are many of them who live in the topmost, backmost, cheapest little rooms of apartment houses in the most select of West End neighbourhoods, in order, as they will say with a mirthless smile, to “have a good address.” For they do not like anyone to know they are poor, these gentlewomen who are “destitute and alone.” They are supposed by their landladies to “go out for their meals.” Biscuits and watercress, with sometimes a bit of cold ham or beef, bought ready cooked, or an egg, surreptitiously boiled over a little spirit stove, form the bulk of their none too frequent meals. Their clothes look often out-of-date, but their skirts do not look drabbled or dirty, for when they are in their little rooms they mend and brush and patch and darn, re-trim their hats with the same old flowers and ostrich-tips, and the same old ribbons, turned and pressed.

In her room the poor lady has no Christmas fire—but who suspects that? She has neither roast goose nor roast beef of Old England for dinner. She will eat a biscuit and some cheese—that is, unless this year some London woman follows the example of the New York woman, and gives a novel Christmas dinner.

But would she go if she were invited? Would scores of others like her become guests at a party where the hostess took them by the hand and wished them “A merry Christmas.” inquiring not their names, stipulating only that they should be women of gentle birth, “destitute and alone “?

I am not sure: I cannot know; but I believe there would be many guests at such a Christmas feast in London. The hostess must be herself a woman of gentle birth and tact and diplomacy, She must not, on the day of the feast, call in her friends to help her receive her guests. It were better she should receive alone. She must not give over the entertainment of her guests to her servants. Though she should advertise her intention of receiving in the newspapers, she should see that no representatives of the press are there to report upon the identity of her guests. Indeed, if there were any possible way of keeping the address where the dinner is to be given out of the papers, it would be preferable.

The door of the hospitable house where the feast was to be given could not, of course, be left open during the two or three hours when the dinner was in progress. Both the wintry weather and the danger of the entrance of thieves would forbid that. The knocker would be used by the guests, the door opened by a servant, and the guests conducted to the drawing-room where the hostess awaited them. That is all. It requires a careful thinking out, management, and delicate handling.

The Quiver 1903

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While the thought was kindly meant, the luncheon for those of education and gentle birth (did the hostess require a certificate?) sounds infinitely depressing, not unlike those dreary economies practised by the destitute. One wonders if those in attendance felt worse afterwards, having been given a brief glimpse of their former lives, like the visions of the Little Match Girl as she lit matches in the snow.

Mrs Daffodil fears that, though laudable is the aim of giving impoverished gentlewomen a holiday treat, there is an unpleasant suggestion that the formerly rich cannot bear poverty as easily as can those born to it.  Mrs Daffodil finds offensive the notion that the daughters of the rich cannot compete with the “less refined and less dainty, but the stronger and better trained.”  If training to “pounce” is needed, then perhaps the kind hostesses would consider subscribing the money spent on an afternoon’s entertainment to fund instruction in useful and remunerative trades.

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.

 

Christmas Ghosts Doomed by Bridge in Britain: 1905

Cartoon from Punch. Caption: Instead of our usual Servant's Ball, this year I've invited the staff to come up here and watch our Bridge

Cartoon from Punch. Caption: Instead of our usual Servant’s Ball, this year I’ve invited the staff to come up here and watch our Bridge

GHOSTS DOOMED BY BRIDGE IN BRITAIN

People Are Too Busy at Cards to Bother About Christmas Wraiths

London, Dec. 30 Among the destructive effects of bridge is the total discomfiture of ghost and ghost stories without which, in the good old-fashioned days, no Christmas annual could be complete. It has no place in this years’ Christmas periodical literature, and current fiction is equally silent on the subject of the ghostly visitant who contributed to the Christmas festivities of a decade ago.

White ladies, headless monks, gray friars, wicked lords and all the vast army of spooks who were obstreperous on Christmas eve, are no longer part of the novelist’s stock in trade.

Women who anxiously inquire for a really good ghost story at the shops, meet with a blank stare of surprise. Not a single ghost story has emanated from the publishers this Christmas tide.

“Out of date,” was the terse explanation of the publisher of light literature when asked why the Christmas ghost had been exorcised. There is no demand for blood-curdling stories of clanking chains, rattling bones and dismal shrieks.

The Haunts of Ghosts

Dreary tumble-down houses, ancient feudal castles and melancholy moated granges, as will be seen from the following list of Christmas phantoms, are their favourite haunts. All of them are pedigreed ghosts with officially recorded appearances.

At Dilston Castle, Lady Westmoreland; Cullaly Castle, the wicked priest; Beddiscombe Manor, the screaming skull; Calverley Hall, Sir Hugh Calverly; Pradenham House, Isaac Disraeli; Rainham hall, the gray lady; Corby Castle, the radiant boy; Newstead Abbey, the black friar; Brookhouse, the headless woman; Copley House, the two heads; Pomeroy Castle, the lady; Churton Hall, the lady and dog; Llyne Valley, the white horse of Llangynwyd; Holland House, Lord Holland; Bisham Abbey, the wraith of Lady Hobey; Rufford Abbey, the Cistercian father; Cheedle Rectory, the abbess of Godstown; Hampton Court, Catherine Howard and Jane Seymour.

The Spooks’ Delight.

A fine ghostly company these. Lady Derwentwater, so goes the tale, has been wont at Christmastide to revisit this earth to expiate the crime of restless ambition which impelled her to drive the Earl of Derwentwater to the scaffold.

Isaac Disraeli, father of the late Lord Beaconsfield, is said to drive a ghostly coach and pair. The beheaded form of Lord Holland used to walk in the grillroom carrying his head in his hands. The wraith of Lady Hobey carried a spectral basin, wringing her hands and vainly trying to wash out the stain of guilt, for, according to the legend, she murdered her boy because he blotted his copybook.

The Cistercian father, dressed in white, always appeared to women only, but this Christmas none of these ghosts are reported to have manifested themselves.

What is the use of their troubling, when everybody is too deep in bridge all night through to watch for them?

Bridge Is Supreme

If a census was to be taken of the amusements which occupied the guests at the country houses during the Christmas holidays it would probably be found that in sixty per cent of the cases bridge had ousted all the games associated with the old-fashioned Christmas festivities. If there were one or two children in the house they were bundled off to bed as early as possible and the house party settled down in religious silence to bridge.

In many houses the game was played for four successive afternoons and nights without a thought of turkey, plum pudding or crackers. The one anxiety was to rush thru a short meal as quickly as possible. Bridge, in fact, killed in certain circles the old-fashioned Christmas in London. Several waif-and-stray parties were given on Christmas day, the idea being to gather together the lonesome souls who dislike noisy festivities, to pull down the blinds and play bridge from luncheon until the small hours of the morning. Tea and the short dinner were regarded as interruptions and small talk as superfluous.

The Minneapolis [MN] Journal 31 December 1905: p. 3 

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has seen, first hand, the scourge that bridge has become: meals sent back to the kitchen, untasted, beds left vacant, presents unopened beneath the tree, mistresses left neglected at house-parties, and engagements broken off without a murmur because one of the contracting parties was absorbed in sorting out a defective trick.

But the human toll is as nothing compared to the loss of the Christmas ghost story. Mrs Daffodil entreats those who are tempted to take up the fatal deck to Think. Remember those memorable childhood Christmas Eves spent lying awake, scarcely daring to breathe under the covers or staring at the door of the cupboard, wondering if it had moved. Those happy times were all because of the Christmas ghost story and those memories will be lost to future generations if the bridge set cannot shun this noxious habit. Mrs Daffodil urges you to put down the cards and the bridge tallies shaped like little Chinese lanterns, and vow to keep alive the traditional Christmas ghost narrative. Posterity, and the terrified children of Britain, will thank you.

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.

This has been an encore posting of a piece originally posted in 2013.

 

The Christmas Tree Dance: 1921

christmas-tree-outfit

CHRISTMAS TREE DANCE IS NOVEL

Young Folks in Christmas Tree Ornament Costumes Suggest Holiday Spirit

When the high school and college crowds of young people gather at home for the Christmas holidays nothing pleases them quite so much as a dance. And the more novel it is the better. This Christmas tree dance, for the school set, should hold plenty of suggestions, for when younger folks plan a good time they never seem to consider anything too much trouble to make the affair a success.

It is especially appropriate for a dance given in a large hall, but it could be very easily adapted to the home, where the rugs are rolled back from the polished floors, which may be sprinkled with boric acid to make them smoother.

On Disks of Gold.

Send out your invitations on disks cut from gold or silver paper pasted on thin cardboard and tied with a loop of gold or silver cord. These will be readily recognized as Christmas tree balls, after the invitation, written on the reverse side of the cardboard, has been read:

To a costume dance on Christmas eve (or at Christmas time)

I bid you heartily,

Come dressed up like an ornament

To decorate my tree.

The living room or the hall can be turned into a huge Christmas tree by hanging branches from ceilings and walls. Use dark green twine for the purpose, loop it around the branch which has been cut from the tree and hang it with pushpins or picture hooks to the wall.

Buy Tinsel Only.

Let your only bought decorations for the branches be tinsel, the fine thread kind. Cut out of every kind of colored cardboard and from the silver and gold paper circles of all sizes, looping them with strings of various lengths to the branches. The effect will be most decorative. If the hall is large you could stand an untrimmed tree in each corner and in the center have one trimmed with tiny electric lights to be danced around during the evening.

When Guests Arrive.

When the guests arrive they will find their dance programs to be very different from the usual book and pencil affair. They are really little Christmas trees cut from stiff green paper made double and the edges pasted together. In the tree are cut slits at regular intervals, as many as there are to be dances, and into each slit tiny candles cut from red or white cardboard are slipped. These candles are numbered and can be pulled out like small tags and on each one there will be room enough to write the name or initials. It might be a good plan to have the white candles for the favor dances and the red ones for the dances to be exchanged. A red pencil is tied with a red cord through the tip of the tree.

There are many novel costumes representing Christmas tree ornaments. Besides the Santas and dolls there could be a popcorn girl, jumping jack, gingerbread men, fairies, candles, tartalan candy bag or stocking, icicle, snowman, candy toys, etc. All of these costumes can be made out of cambric, cardboard or crepe paper with very little trouble.

The favor dances can be brought into the spirit of the evening very easily. For instance, there can be a Santa Claus frolic early enough in the evening to make all acquainted. Santa, who is the host or the master of ceremonies, stands under his Christmas tree with  collar of sleigh bells in his hand. These he shakes as a signal for the partners to stop dancing and form a ring which dances around the tree until his bells signal again to break up, girls to the left, boys to the right. A third signal stops them in their opposing rings and sends them off with new partners. To make even more fun Santa can suggest all sorts of figures. Thus when all are in the ring he can shout, “All around on one foot only!” Those who stumble or lose their balance may fall out.

Idaho Statesman [Boise, ID] 11 December 1921: p. 6  

dancing-round-the-christmas-tree

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Although electric lights were increasingly advocated for Christmas-tree safety, there were still concerns and fires. One can only imagine the opportunities for accidental combustion when pairing persons in crape-paper costume directed by Father Christmas to hop on one foot around the tree.

Perhaps Mrs Daffodil is too censorious; she is not pleased by the suggestion of boric acid on the polished floor. Dancing will raise a toxic dust and the powder will only make more work for the house-maids. Do the thing properly and hire a dance-floor.

Although “Come dressed up like an ornament/To decorate my tree,” suggests the beginning of a risqué holiday “Blues” song, here are some fancy-dress costume suggestions of a Yuletide character:

christmas-tree-costume christmas-tree-costume

Mrs Daffodil has previously written on other Christmas party ideas: A toy party for the children; a rather lugubrious ghost party for the young folks, and, of course, a holiday party for pets.

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.

 

The Pets’ Christmas: 1901-1915

PETS HAVE HIGH JINKS

Lamb Chops, Carrots, and Bottle Flies hang on Christmas Tree.

Chicago. On the Christmas tree hung four luscious lamb chops.

Near the top were eight fine, big blue bottle flies, each impaled deftly on a pin thrust through red tissue paper.

Two luscious carrots dangled by red ribbons, knotted into holly, from a lower branch.

Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Crane fluttered about like flustered mamma and excited dad at a daughter’s coming-out party.

The tree was lighted; Mrs. Crane’s four chameleons executed deep courtesies; Dick, who was the guest of honor, barked a tiny squeak of appreciation, and the pets’ Christmas tree party was on.

Dick, be it known, is the Belgian griffon owned by Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Grossmith. Vernon Castle, a brother of Mrs. Grossmith, solemnly baptized the dog a year ago, and has been Dick’s patron, so that these social affairs are somewhat boresome to him.

But Mrs. Crane’s chameleons’ party was not boresome. The chameleons feasted off the flies caught by café busboys at $1 per catch. Dick engaged the lamb chops in deadly encounter, and two mere rabbits, called in at the last minute by the resourceful Mrs. Crane when she received the regrets of George Arliss’ English bulldog, served their turn as “social fillers,” and munched the carrots. The Washington [DC] Post 29 December 1915: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has previously written on entertainments for favoured felines. With the approach of the winter festivals, naturally every dog must have his holiday.  Recently at the shops, Mrs Daffodil observed a department lavishly furnished with toys and gifts for pets, as well as special wrapping papers, decorations, costumes, and greeting cards designed with Our Furry Friends in mind.  One would imagine that our households were stocked with nothing but royal Corgis.

Mrs Daffodil is in favour of kindness to our animal companions, but draws the line at purchasing blue-bottle flies at premium prices. A saucer of sugar-water in the stables would produce as many choice specimens as desired. But perhaps these were pedigreed chameleons requiring a special diet.

Some other examples of celebrating with pets:

CHRISTMAS TREE FOR PET DOGS.

It was Laden With All Possible Canine Delicacies.

Baltimore, Dec. 26. A Christmas tree laden with sausages, ham bones, juicy chicken and other delicacies that would appeal to the taste of a dog was the novel holiday feature for the benefit of pet dogs on the estate of Miss Nannie Sloan, a well-known member of society. Miss Sloan has a beautiful country residence at Fairlee, near Lutherville, with O.B. Magrader, the manager of the place.

The tree was decorated with the usual trimmings, and the three pets, a greyhound, a fox terrier, and a pug, were taken to the room where the tree had been prepared and in a little while they were having the time of their lives. The dogs jumped after the various delicacies, much to the amusement of the spectators, and the event was voted a success. Wilkes-Barre [PA] Times 26 December 1906: p. 5

One imagines the tree did not long remain upright. The Queen of Servia’s dogs were more disciplined;

CHRISTMAS FOR DOGS

The Queen of Servia has a Christmas tree for her dogs. On it are placed those delicacies dearest to the canine heart. The animals are trained to take off these dainty morsels in an orderly manner, and at the Christmas ceremony itself the Queen and her friends attend to witness the proceedings. The Enquirer [Cincinnati OH] 22 December 1901: p. 2

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.

The Sybaritic Sentries: 1870s

happy-santa-claus-1915

THE SYBARITIC SENTRIES.

Raymond P. Sanford, a robust and healthy undergraduate of Cornell, lives for scientific purposes on 85 cents a week, his food, including buttermilk, lentils, peanuts, raisins, cabbage, peppers, oatmeal and apples.

“I thrive on this fare,” Mr. Sanford said the other day in Ithaca. “I admit, however, that to stick to it takes will power. I have to govern my sybaritic propensities. I must not imitate the young sentries.

“There was once a Christmas masquerade ball, you know, and a squad of young sentries stood guard out in the snow.

“Well, as the ball progressed, the conduct of a certain guest, disguised as a Santa Claus, astonished and perplexed everybody. This Santa Claus would dance with the prettiest women for fifteen or twenty minutes, and then, hurrying to the buffet, he would drink a bottle of champagne, and eat lobster salad, ices, caviar sandwiches, truffled turkey—everything in sight.

The host, after several hours of such gluttonous and intemperate conduct on the part of the Santa Claus guest, conferred with his butler, and to his amazement learned that the offender had, by actual computation, devoured forty sandwiches, sixty ices and eight quarts of lobster salad, while he had drunk thirty-one bottles of champagne and ninety glasses of punch.

“It seemed incredible! Yet there he was, as vigorous and fresh and sober as ever, now whispering compliments in a pretty matron’s ear, now rushing to the buffet for more wine and more lobster.

Puzzled and vexed, the host took Santa Claus by the arm and led him into a recess.

“’Show me your invitation card,’ he said.

But Santa Claus had none.

“Then unmask.”

“Dolefully the spurious guest obeyed.

“’Why, you’re one of the sentries!’

“’Yes, sir.’

“He was, indeed, one of the sentries—one of the squad of sentries stationed outside in the snow.

“These young men had hired a cheap Santa Claus make-up, and, donning it one by one, had each enjoyed a brief but delightful share of the Christmas festivities—the dancing and lobster and champagne in the ballroom.”

Idaho Statesman [Boise, ID] 31 December 1912: . 8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil knows a great many mauve-faced Colonels who have grown old and sportive on a diet of lobster salad and champagne. Were Mrs Daffodil to serve lentils and buttermilk here at the Hall, there would be mutiny, if not outright murder. And what is Christmas without its Groaning Festal Board, its smoking roast beef and flaming plum pudding?

The young Mr Sanford received much coverage in the press for his scientific experiment in domestic economy. One suspects that he did not understand the difference between a moral recommendation and an amusing anecdote told over port and cigars. Mrs Daffodil observes that the freshman-ascetic (who, frankly, one cannot imagine having any sybaritic propensities whatsoever) later became a minister and was zealous in the cause of social justice. He had originally enrolled in Cornell as a student of agriculture; perhaps the fasting inspired him to a higher calling, although someone has to grow those lentils and cabbages.

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.

 

Christmas Ghosts Doomed by Bridge in Britain: 1905

Cartoon from Punch. Caption: Instead of our usual Servant's Ball, this year I've invited the staff to come up here and watch our Bridge

Cartoon from Punch. Caption: Instead of our usual Servant’s Ball, this year I’ve invited the staff to come up here and watch our Bridge

GHOSTS DOOMED BY BRIDGE IN BRITAIN

People Are Too Busy at Cards to Bother About Christmas Wraiths

London, Dec. 30 Among the destructive effects of bridge is the total discomfiture of ghost and ghost stories without which, in the good old-fashioned days, no Christmas annual could be complete. It has no place in this years’ Christmas periodical literature, and current fiction is equally silent on the subject of the ghostly visitant who contributed to the Christmas festivities of a decade ago.

White ladies, headless monks, gray friars, wicked lords and all the vast army of spooks who were obstreperous on Christmas eve, are no longer part of the novelist’s stock in trade.

Women who anxiously inquire for a really good ghost story at the shops, meet with a blank stare of surprise. Not a single ghost story has emanated from the publishers this Christmas tide.

“Out of date,” was the terse explanation of the publisher of light literature when asked why the Christmas ghost had been exorcised. There is no demand for blood-curdling stories of clanking chains, rattling bones and dismal shrieks.

The Haunts of Ghosts

Dreary tumble-down houses, ancient feudal castles and melancholy moated granges, as will be seen from the following list of Christmas phantoms, are their favourite haunts. All of them are pedigreed ghosts with officially recorded appearances.

At Dilston Castle, Lady Westmoreland; Cullaly Castle, the wicked priest; Beddiscombe Manor, the screaming skull; Calverley Hall, Sir Hugh Calverly; Pradenham House, Isaac Disraeli; Rainham hall, the gray lady; Corby Castle, the radiant boy; Newstead Abbey, the black friar; Brookhouse, the headless woman; Copley House, the two heads; Pomeroy Castle, the lady; Churton Hall, the lady and dog; Llyne Valley, the white horse of Llangynwyd; Holland House, Lord Holland; Bisham Abbey, the wraith of Lady Hobey; Rufford Abbey, the Cistercian father; Cheedle Rectory, the abbess of Godstown; Hampton Court, Catherine Howard and Jane Seymour.

The Spooks’ Delight.

A fine ghostly company these. Lady Derwentwater, so goes the tale, has been wont at Christmastide to revisit this earth to expiate the crime of restless ambition which impelled her to drive the Earl of Derwentwater to the scaffold.

Isaac Disraeli, father of the late Lord Beaconsfield, is said to drive a ghostly coach and pair. The beheaded form of Lord Holland used to walk in the grillroom carrying his head in his hands. The wraith of Lady Hobey carried a spectral basin, wringing her hands and vainly trying to wash out the stain of guilt, for, according to the legend, she murdered her boy because he blotted his copybook.

The Cistercian father, dressed in white, always appeared to women only, but this Christmas none of these ghosts are reported to have manifested themselves.

What is the use of their troubling, when everybody is too deep in bridge all night through to watch for them?

Bridge Is Supreme

If a census was to be taken of the amusements which occupied the guests at the country houses during the Christmas holidays it would probably be found that in sixty per cent of the cases bridge had ousted all the games associated with the old-fashioned Christmas festivities. If there were one or two children in the house they were bundled off to bed as early as possible and the house party settled down in religious silence to bridge.

In many houses the game was played for four successive afternoons and nights without a thought of turkey, plum pudding or crackers. The one anxiety was to rush thru a short meal as quickly as possible. Bridge, in fact, killed in certain circles the old-fashioned Christmas in London. Several waif-and-stray parties were given on Christmas day, the idea being to gather together the lonesome souls who dislike noisy festivities, to pull down the blinds and play bridge from luncheon until the small hours of the morning. Tea and the short dinner were regarded as interruptions and small talk as superfluous.

The Minneapolis [MN] Journal 31 December 1905: p. 3 

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has seen, first hand, the scourge that bridge has become: meals sent back to the kitchen, untasted, beds left vacant, presents unopened beneath the tree, mistresses left neglected at house-parties, and engagements broken off without a murmur because one of the contracting parties was absorbed in sorting out a defective trick.

But the human toll is as nothing compared to the loss of the Christmas ghost story. Mrs Daffodil entreats those who are tempted to take up the fatal deck to Think. Remember those memorable childhood Christmas Eves spent lying awake, scarcely daring to breathe under the covers or staring at the door of the cupboard, wondering if it had moved. Those happy times were all because of the Christmas ghost story and those memories will be lost to future generations if the bridge set cannot shun this noxious habit. Mrs Daffodil urges you to put down the cards and the bridge tallies shaped like little Chinese lanterns, and vow to keep alive the traditional Christmas ghost narrative. Posterity, and the terrified children of Britain, will thank you.

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.

 

A Christmas Ghost Party for Christmas Eve: 1904

An Illustration for Dickens' Christmas Carol. The Ghost of Christmas Future.

An Illustration for Dickens’ Christmas Carol. The Ghost of Christmas Future.

A CHRISTMAS GHOST PARTY

FOR CHRISTMAS EVE

The veil that separates the realm of spirits from that of mortals has always been held by reverent tradition —not to say superstition—to be thinner on Christmas Eve than at any other time of the year. Ghosts are said to revisit their old haunts and homes; hence the Christmas custom of relating stories of spectral visitants.

A phantom reunion is therefore appropriate to the day.

The invitations may read:

The Shade of Miss Blank is requested to be present at a

Meeting of the Ghosts at

Apparition Assembly Cave

No Street

on the eve of the “Holy Night” at nine o’clock

It is requested that each fair phantom wear a winding-sheet

The walls of the room in which the spectres assemble should be hung with white cheese-cloth, and all lights screened with white paper shades lined with blue, etc give a more ghastly effect, to which burning alcohol containing a pinch of salt will contribute.

The ghosts arrive, draped in sheets, with pillow-cases about their heads, wearing white masks and gloves. At the appearance of each female phantom the hostess says “Sh-h-h!” which all the guests repeat, but upon the arrival of a man spirit a dolorous groan is his welcome, and is taken up by the rest of the company. They move noiselessly about the room, never speaking above a sepulchral whisper. If a “graveyard” cough can be managed at intervals, the effect will be appreciated.

Each apparition must wear a distinctive mark on his or her forehead—a splash of blood-red paint, a bone attached to the top of the mask, the picture of a spade, a skull—anything gruesome. With these they are solemnly invested as they pass from the dressing-room, and a card, with pencil attached, is given to each.

They are expected to guess one another’s identity, in spite of all efforts to foil detection, and the names are to be noted on the card, accompanied by his or her special mark by way of signature.

At the sound of a bell slowly and solemnly tolled the guests add their signatures to their cards, which they then drop into a box draped with black.

If, in placing the cards within it, a slight electric shock could be delivered from a small hidden battery, the uncanny effect would be emphasised.

The one whose card bears the greatest number of correct guesses may have a prize, and another be presented to the one who has best concealed his identity.

An occasional waltz is danced to the slowest possible accompaniment of muffled music, but square dances are most appropriate if walked through with the solemn stateliness befitting the ideal ghost.

A bell is slowly tolled to announce supper, served at eleven o’clock or before, on plain white dishes, the table decorated with white flowers. The menu may keep to ghostly white consisting of clam bouillon or creamed oysters, chicken salad, sandwiches, angel cake, kisses, vanilla ice-cream, peppermints, and other white bonbons.

The guests unmask at supper, return to human, fleshly habitations, and are as merry as they please.

To be so absorbed in frolic as to ignore entirely the great event commemorated on the “holy night” would be to carry fun too far.

Upon returning to the drawing-room (from which all suggestions of gruesomeness are removed) after supper, the lights may be turned down, and after the solemn tolling of midnight a voice from an unseen singer may thrill the auditors with the stirring notes of Adam’s “Cantique de Noel,” which seem to be the very utterance of the herald-angel. Or Gounod’s “Messe Solennelle” on piano or organ would be most impressive, and with its triumphant proclamation would make an effective climax. In and Out Door Games: With Suggestions for Entertainments, Florence Kingsland (Mrs. Burton Kingsland.) 1904

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While Mrs Kingland was a widely-published etiquette author, Mrs Daffodil wonders at her recommending such a lugubrious entertainment, which seems designed for some penitential purpose rather than for holiday pleasure.  She certainly seems anxious not to “carry fun too far.” Perhaps this was a party got up for a young ladies’ Sunday School class or a Temperance Society. Chapel-goers would certainly indignantly repudiate any dashed French “Messe,” no matter how “Solenelle.”

Then there is the matter of the burning alcohol and the electric shocks, which are more often associated with Halloween and the19th-century American fondness for painful practical jokes.

Mrs Daffodil suggests that the effective climax of a well-regulated British Christmas Eve is a Service of Lessons and Carols, followed by a selection of ghost stories told in the Provost’s rooms, accompanied by sherry and biscuits.

Since today is St. Nicholas’ Day, you might enjoy this post on the cribs of the Infant Jesus written last year for the Haunted Ohio blog.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a holiday feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.