Tag Archives: Christmas presents

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.

What Shall I Give: Christmas Suggestions for the Seven Ages of Man: 1913

18ct gold dressing table set Tiffany 1930s

18-ct gold Tiffany gentleman’s dressing table set, 1930s https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/24252/lot/357/

WHAT SHALL I GIVE?

CHRISTMAS SUGGESTIONS. (By Imogen in the “Dominion.”) The most distracting thing in the world is to know what to give at Christmas time, and the difficulty is still more accentuated when the recipient is a man, and since there are so many men there must be an equal number of. sorely-perplexed women ransacking their brains for ideas that may materialise into new, useful, or ornamental gifts for members of their family, friends, or those of any other standing in their regard.

In desperation the question was hurled at a modest, unsuspecting, hard-working man the other day.

“What would you like for a Christmas Present?

The pen fell out of his hand and he subsided into his chair. “This is awfully sudden,” he murmured in subdued, tones. “Have you come in for unlimited wealth?”

“No! I’m, merely wanting to know what men like for presents.” was the crushing reply.

“Oh Is that all!”

A pause.

“I see what you’re after,” he broke out. with a sudden rush of discernment. “You shall have my little lot.”

After a few seconds’ laboured thinking, he handed in triumph a small sheet of paper. “Quite simple, don’t you think?”

The paper read as follows:

“One new pipe, costing 2s 6d; one new cricket bat, weighing only 21b 4oz, with sliding cane in the handle; one pair feather-weight shoes, weighing .0005 of an oz. so that I could field at cricket.”

The suggestions found an encouraging reception, especially the featherweight shoes. Another occupant of the room was asked his preferences. His cup of happiness was so full, however, that all he could think of was a new pipe (evidently an insatiable and everlasting need among men) and, as an afterthought, a pair of bath slippers, and not even after a few minutes devoted to hard thinking could he think of any other need. He was not a millionaire either, or if he was he kept the fact a deep, dark, horrible secret, possibly, a necessary thing in these Socialistic, Red Federation days. A newcomer into the room was asked ingratiatingly what he would like given, to him. Delightedly he smiled. “It’s very kind of you. There are a few trifles I would like, especially as I may be going to England shortly. Shall I begin?” He began!!!

“A safe money-belt; a fitted suitcase; a. dressing-case; a shaving outfit; pair of prism binoculars; Thermos flask; monogramed pocketbook; walking-stick medicine case; military brushes; opera glasses; silver shoehorn collar-case; silver soap cup; safety razor; fountain–!!!

“Why, what is the matter I can still go on, you know.”

It was an undoubted fact. He was prepared to go on for quite a long time, but a telephone call being made upon him, he had to vanish.

A comprehensive addition to the little list of possible gifts enumerated above might be found in the appended suggestions, which are taken from the Christmas number of the “Ladies’ Home Journal.” It is quite suited to the seven ages of man:

rabbit rattle

German velvet rabbit rattle, c. 1906 http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1122524/soft-toy/

For the Baby Boy.

Hanger for his wardrobe, trimmed baby basket, celluloid, rubber, and stuffed toys, hand-made dresses and skirts, celluloid toilet sets, rompers, worsted cap, silk bonnet, corduroy coat, stuffed animals, silver cup, low table and chairs, eiderdown bath robe, rattle, ring, and dell, pillow-cover, bootees, worsted sacque, sweater, leggings, carriage cosy, rag doll, silver spoon, table tray, bath thermometer.

For Little and Big Boys.

House slippers, building blocks, indoor-outdoor games, balance toys, moving toys, mechanical toys, soldier’s suit, fireman’s suit, books, dog, kitten, rabbit, bird, dog-collar, folding desk, roller skates, comb and brush set, kindergarten gifts, reflecting lantern, camera, bicycle, athletic game books, clothes-brush, penknife, boxing gloves, pedometer, pocket compass, inexpensive watch, Indian clubs, blackboard, electric train, painting book, bow and. arrow, scout equipment, shooting game with cork ammunition, cowboy suit, vocational toys, filled school case, tool chest, stilts, boy’s suitcase, camping tent, microscope, gauntlet gloves, tool-chest, stationary engine, referee’s whistle, school pennant, megaphone, developing film.

 

The Young Man, Father, and Grandfather.

Gloves, silk hosiery, slumber slippers, blanket robe, housecoat, sectional bookcase, lawyer’s brief case, wing chair, footstool, pictures, desk, carving set, handy box, week-end trunk, Malacca walking-stick, evening slippers, rain-coat, silk shirt, hip pocket book (monogrammed), spring grip dumbbells, bill fold and wallet, medicine cupboard, leather key case numbered for 10-1 dozen keys, barometer, thermometer, flexible top cloth brush, silk or knitted muffler, umbrella, coin purse, magazine subscription, sweater, football, starter’s golf clubs, tennis racket, silk or flannel pyjamas, manicure set, triplicate mirrors, brush and comb set, toilet water.

travelling rug hermes 1930s

A leather and woollen travelling rug by Hermes, c. 1930s https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/15398/lot/286/

If He Travels.

Leather sewing box, rubber-lined tourist cases, soft leather, necktie case’ with stickpin and collar button pockets, travelling rug and strap, leather shirt case with collar, cuff, glove, and tie compartments, suitcase, umbrella, travelling medicine chest, commutation ticket case, fitted toilet case, traveller’s slippers in case, fitted leather correspondence case, leather jewellery box.

 

If He Motors.

Fitted emergency case with instruction book, lunch basket, gloves, clock, pennant, automobile match safe, foot muff or warmer, motor roll for coats, etc., leather air cushions, motor rugs, goggles, muffler, leather shell coat.

cartier chinoiserie letter opener watch

Cartier chinoiserie letter opener/paper knife with clock. http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/22466/lot/1147/

For His Desk and Den.

Large calendar, newspaper rack, clock, desk set, letter clip, postage scales, assorted stationery, expanding hook shelves, large scrap basket, desk scissors, reading lamp, cushions, ivory paper knife.

gentleman's gold pocket watch chain and seal 1929

Gentleman’s gold pocket watch, chain, and fob, c. 1929 https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/17233/lot/188/

In Gold and Silver.

Eyeglass case, scarf pin, shirt studs, key chain, signet ring, charm, cuff links, gold pencil, fob, lapel chain, watch, gold buckle with leather belt, gold vest-pocket fountain pen, platinum chain for evening wear, silver photo frame.

1920s shetland golf jumper

A 1920s Shetland golf jumper, useful for any out-of-doors sport. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O368372/golf-jumper-unknown/

For Outdoor Life.

Leather leggings, folding pocket camera, driving gloves, raincoat, blazer, stop watch, athletic jersey, harness, saddle.

Timaru [NZ] Herald,  20 December 1913: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil would note that although slippers do appear  on the list, gentlemen rightly recoil from those beaded, Berlin-wool-work horrors young ladies inflict upon them.

Let us hear from a candid gentleman who enumerates the many useless gifts he has received over the years and frankly states what he wants:

A Christmas Letter.

From the Christmas Peck.

Dearest Phyllis:

Pray remember when you’re making up the list of your presents for December (unless I am to be missed) that I’ve slippers, picture brackets, smoking sets of various types, half a dozen smoking jackets, thirty-seven meerschaum pipes, twenty patent “kid glove menders,” collar boxes by the score, of embroidered silk suspenders forty-eleven pairs or more! That each year since I was twenty I’ve received a paper weight, have penwipers, ink stand plenty, paper cutters—twenty-eight. That I’ve Browning and Longfellow by the hundreds—every kind; Shakespeare—black and blue and yellow; Milton till I’m nearly blind!

So there’s just one present only that I’m wanting in this year of my bachelorship so lonely—that’s yourself, my Phyllis dear.

Evening Star [Washington DC] 25 December 1897: p. 15

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.

In Lieu of Champagne: Mrs Daffodil’s One-Thousandth Post

 

Mrs Daffodil is pleased to report that to-day marks an anniversary of sorts: the one-thousandth post on this site. Mrs Daffodil should enjoy breaking out the champagne for a toast, or at the very least, passing around a box of chocolate cremes, but, alas, this is impracticable, since her readers are scattered all around the globe.

In lieu of champagne, Mrs Daffodil will share her reader’s best-loved posts and some of her own favourites, interspersed with some cuttings from her fashion scrap-books.

gold sequins sun king fan

“Sun King” fan with tinted mother-of-pearl sticks and guards and shaded copper and gold spangles, c. 1880-1910 https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/fan/xAG2xDgj6hb8LA

Although it is difficult to choose from posts so numerous and wide-ranging, three of the most popular posts shared by Mrs Daffodil were

How to Make Stage Lightning and Thunder: 1829-1900

Men Who Wear Corsets: 1889 and 1903

Strange Flower Superstitions in Many Lands

A guest post by the subfusc author of The Victorian Book of the Dead on Bad Taste in Funeral Flowers: 1895-1914, also made the top of the charts.

Posts about the contemporary costs of fashion were quite popular.

The Cost of a Curtsey: Court Presentation Expenses: 1907

Where That $10,000-a-year Dress Allowance Goes: 1903

What Gilded Youth Spends on Its Wardrobe: 1907

The Cost of a Fine Lady: 1857

As were stories of how to dress nicely on a budget:

Dressing on $50 to $200 a Year: 1898

How To Be a Well-dressed Young Man on a Budget: 1890

spring green Callot orientalist

1923 Callot Soeurs orientalist dress http://kerrytaylorauctions.com

Some of Mrs Daffodil’s personal favourites include

How to Dress (or Undress) Like a Mermaid: 1868 to 1921

A Children’s Christmas Cottage: 1850s

How to Entertain with Impromptu Fruit Sculpture: 1906

A Bashful Bridegroom: 1831

 

The Dress Doctor: An Ingenious Lady’s Profession: 1894

A Ghost Orders a Hat: 1900

The Angel of Gettysburg: Elizabeth Thorn: 1863

A Shakespearean Contretemps: 1830s 

stumpwork casket with garden

Stumpwork casket with a garden on the lid, c. 1660-1690 http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/39240/stumpwork-casket

Mrs Daffodil thanks all of her readers for their kind attention and she would very much enjoy hearing about their favourite posts on this site in the comments.

 

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.

Empress Augusta’s Appalling Christmas Gifts: 1873

Berlin Victory Column

The Siegessäule: The Victory Column in Berlin.

This narrative is from Princess Catherine Radziwill, wife of a Polish Prince, living in Berlin.

The first Christmas that followed upon my marriage was thus spent in all the gloom of black clothes. [in mourning for The Queen Dowager, widow of King Frederick William IV] On the 26th of December, the Empress appeared at my mother-in-law’s, accompanied by her daughter, the Grand Duchess of Baden, and brought with her an enormous bag filled with various trifles which she distributed among us as Christmas presents. These occasions were dreaded by everybody, as anything more hideous than the knick-knacks the poor Empress used to bring could hardly be imagined. My husband, with his cousins, had composed on the subject a little song of which the refrain was:—

‘Un vilain, vilain, vilain cadeau de la Reine; Un vilain, vilain cadeau de la Reine.’

The fact was that she never gave a pretty thing, and on this particular Christmas, the first in my experience when I was admitted among the recipients of her bounty, I remember having been scared by the sight of an appalling thermometer in green bronze representing the Column of Victory in Berlin, which in itself is a hideous monument. As my ill luck would have it, I was made the unhappy recipient of this monstrosity, and never could get rid of it in after life. No matter where I moved, the dreadful thing followed me. It would not get broken, or lost, or even mislaid; it was impossible to give it to a bazaar, and I expect that one day it will turn up again from one of my boxes, when I least expect it.

These presents of the Queen remind me of an adventure which befell one of them, and caused my poor mother-in-law a few sleepless nights. She had received for a birthday present from the Empress a table in white china ornamented by her Majesty herself with paintings of the kind called Decalcomanie. It was anything but beautiful, and was at once relegated to a dark corner of the apartment, whence it only emerged when the good Augusta was expected. This kind of thing lasted for about two years, when at last my mother-in-law thought she might venture to dispose of the ugly thing, and gave it to a bazaar held in her own house. She carefully waited until the Empress had paid it a visit, and then, feeling sure of impunity, sent it there. As it happened the Emperor appeared the next day, and after having been taken round the rooms was at once caught by the unfortunate table, and in spite of frantic efforts made by my sister-in-law to prevent him, proceeded to buy it as a present for the Empress. One may imagine the consternation! However, Augusta, if she recognised her own present, showed herself merciful, for she made no allusion to its fate

My Recollections, Princess Catherine Radziwill, 1904

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is pleased to see that even aristocratic houses have difficulty with holiday tat and with the vicissitudes of “re-gifting,” as it is so gratingly called. “Rubbish removal” would be a more accurate term, although Mrs Daffodil recognises that, as happens in some marriages, there are occasions when, through no fault on either side, mutual sympathy is lacking.

Mrs Daffodil will give an example. The entire staff is awaiting Christmas morning at the Hall when Mr Kidd, the butler, will open his gift from the footmen: a prismatic Dunhill “Aquarium” lighter, resplendent with multi-coloured fish. It is quite a good lighter in its way and would undoubtedly have pride of place in the rooms of an undergraduate or a bookie. Whether it will be as well-received by the fastidious Mr Kidd, who prides himself on his Cartier cigar-cutter and his humidor smuggled out of the smoking room at Sandringham, remains to be seen.

To be Relentlessly Informative, the deceased Queen Dowager was Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria who died 14 December, 1873.  Princess Catherine Radziwill was married to a Polish Prince; they lived in Berlin to be close to his family and she spent a good deal of time at Court until a series of amusingly scurrilous letters she published under a pseudonym, attracted the attention of the authorities. Empress Augusta was, of course, the well-beloved wife of Kaiser Wilhelm. It seems, from the anecdote above, that their tastes were well-matched.

For a previous post on the more tasteful gifts of the British royal family, please follow this link.

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 Anti-Fancy-work Fairy: 1893

A gentleman's smoking cap. http://explore-art.pem.org/object/american-decorative-arts/109133/detai

A gentleman’s smoking cap. There may be shaded roses on one of the panels. http://explore-art.pem.org/object/american-decorative-arts/109133/detai

A CHRISTMAS FAIRY TALK

A Voice of Disapproval Raised Against useless Fancy Work.

“One reads about women that do fancy work, but one rarely meets them,” said the disagreeable Christmas fairy to the New York Recorder, “but there are such woman. I was going to say that there are such things, not that I scorn them, but one cannot help regarding as a curio a fin de siècle woman, to whom voice culture, the Delsarte system, stenography and skirt dancing are every-day studies, and French cookery and elocution only trifles that are expected of her, having time for fancy work.

“One cannot help wondering at what hour a woman gets up who performs her morning ablutions properly—I won’t go so far as to include manicuring, because, they say, it’s going out—who reads the daily paper enough to be able to talk to uninteresting people, who eats her meals without courting indigestion, who dresses as all women dress now, not wisely, but too well, and still has time to make things that hang on and tumble off chandeliers and chairs.

“There are such things as knitting machines; you can buy embroidery and insertion at less than 10 cents a yard; every one, in his or her heart, has an instinctive dislike to an antimacassar; no one loves a lamp mat; there never was a man yet who used a canvas pipe rack worked with forget-me-nots, and even embroidered braces are a species of pearl cast before swine; few men have the amount of moral courage required to wear a smoking cap with shaded roses worked on it, and a yellow tassel; all humanity hates, loathes and despises the kind of person who wears woolen cuffs, and yet—I speak with knowledge—there are still women in the heart of this great city who sit in a little woolly world of their own and count stitches and work flowers that nature wouldn’t recognize even as third cousins.

There are even women who work ‘Scratch My Back’ on a piece of perforated cardboard, and think that people of average intelligence are going to walk across the room, full of chairs, to a corner, full of knick-knacks, and take very remote chances of getting a light from the back of a bobbing concern with three tassels and four yards of ribbon on it.

“Life is too short for that kind of thing!

“I once knew a man who used an embroidered cigarette case, kept his newspapers in a satin wall-pocket, his handkerchiefs in a gorgeous affair inscribed ‘Mouchoirs,’ hung his watch in a perforated cardboard slipper, and folded his nightshirt into a scented case embroidered with his monogram, and a quotation from Shakespeare. He was, fortunately, a government clerk, and so had plenty of time. I should not call such a man a fool, so much as an old lady, and pity, rather than condemn him, because he was so obviously the victim of women who had too little to do.”

Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA] 17 December 1893: p. 24

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: If that impassioned plea were not enough, here is a cautionary tale depicting a home that became a perfect hell of fancy-work.

NEW DEVELOPMENT OF CRAZY WORK.

The women of Brooklyn have taken a craze for embroidery on linen, and for the time being this fad has eclipsed china decorating, cushion collecting and souvenir spoon hunting. Every dish upon the dinner table reposes on a fringed or hemstitched doyley embroidered in delicate silks in all shades of the rainbow. A South Brooklyn man whose wife is an especially ardent embroiderer, told some of his friends the other day that his home was becoming a sort of nightmare to him. There were hard, knotty monograms on all the sheets, the bath towels were inscribed with sentences advocating cleanliness, and maxims were freely sprinkled about the house in all conceivable shapes, But the climax, he says, came the other evening, when he took off his coat to enjoy a game of billiards. He wore a white waistcoat, and across the back of it was embroidered in yellow letters:

I don’t care what the daisies say,

I know I’ll be married some fine day!

He was so mad when he discovered it that he went home and tore up a cheese doyley that had yellow mice embroidered all round the edges, and refused to sleep upon a pillow which read: “Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care.”

Star 12 August 1893: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil implores her readers who contemplate making holiday presents for their loved ones to shun the needle and floss as they would an opium pipe and purchase him that chain-saw for which he longs.

There was actually an organisation devoted to the abolishment of useless Christmas presents, which may be found in this post, which includes a delightful story on the subject by Saki, “Reginald on Christmas Presents.”

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.

 

 

How a Ghost Saved Christmas: 1901

Queen Victoria's Christmas Tree

Queen Victoria’s Christmas Tree

Bills, M.D

A CHRISTMAS GHOST I HAVE MET

It was the usual kind of a Christmas Eve. The snow was falling with its customary noiselessness, and the world was gradually taking on a mantle of white which made it look like a very attractive wedding-cake. It was upon this occasion that Old Bills materialized in my down-town study and got me out of a very unpleasant hole. The year had not been a very profitable one for me. My last book had been a comparative failure, having sold only 118,000 copies in the first six months, so that instead of receiving $60,000 in royalties on the first of November, as I had expected, I had fallen down to something like $47,000. There was a fraction of seven or eight hundred dollars—just what it was I cannot recall. Then my securities had, for one reason or another, failed to yield the customary revenue; some thirty or forty of my houses had not rented; taxes had increased—in short, I found myself at Christmas-time, with my wife and eight children expecting to be remembered, with less than $80,000 that I could spare in the bank.

To be sure, we had all agreed that this year we should avoid extravagance, and the little madame had informed me that she would be very unhappy if I expended more than $40,000 upon her present from myself. My daughter, too, like the sweet girl that she is, said, with a considerable degree of firmness, that she would rather have a check for $10,000 than the diamond necklace I had contemplated giving her; and my eldest son had sent word from college, in definite terms, that he didn’t think, in view of the hard times, he would ask for anything more than a new pair of wheelers for his drag, three hunters, a T cart, a silver chafing-dish set, and a Corot for his smoking-room.

This spirit, as I say, permeated the household—even the baby babbled of economy, and thought he could get along with ruby jackstones and a bag of cats’ eyes to play marbles with. But even thus, as the reader can see for himself, $80,000 would not go far, and I was in despair. There is no greater trial in the world than that confronting a generously disposed father who suddenly finds himself at Christmas time without the means to carry out his wishes and to provide his little ones with the gifts which their training has justified them in expecting.

I was seated alone in my office, not having the courage to go home and tell my family of the horrid state of affairs, or, rather, putting off the evil hour, for ultimately the truth would have to be told. It was growing dark. Outside I could hear the joyous hum of the busy streets; the clanging of the crowded cable-cars, going to and fro, bearing their holiday burden of bundle-laden shoppers, seemed to sound musically and to tell of peace and goodwill. Even the cold, godless world of commerce seemed to warm up with the spirit of the hour. I alone was in misery, at a moment when peace and happiness and good-will were the watchwords of humanity. My distress increased every moment as I conjured up before my mind’s eye the picture of the coming morn, when my children and their mother, in serene confidence that I would do the right thing by them, should find the tree bare of presents, and discover, instead of the usual array of bonds and jewels, and silver services, and horses and carriages, and rich furs, and priceless books (the baby had cut his teeth the year before on the cover of the Grolier edition of Omar Khayyam, which, at a cost of $600, I had given him, bound in ivory and gold, with carbuncles adorning the back and the title set in brilliants)—discover, instead of these, I say, mere commonplace presents possessing no intrinsic worth—why, it was appalling to think of their disappointment! To be sure, I had purchased a suit of Russian sables for madam, and had concealed a certified check for $25,000 in the pocket of the dolman, but what was that in such times, hard as they were!

And you may imagine it was all exquisitely painful to me. Then, on a sudden, I seemed not to be alone. Something appeared to materialize off in the darker corner of the study. At first I thought it was merely the filming over of my eyes with the moisture of an incipient and unshed tear, but I was soon undeceived, for the thing speedily took shape, and a rather unpleasant shape at that, although there was a radiant kindliness in its green eyes.

“Who are you?” I demanded, jumping up and staring intently at the apparition, my hair meanwhile rising slightly.

“I’m Dr. Bills,” was the response, in a deep, malarial voice, as the phantom, for that is all it was, approached me. “I’ve come to help you out of your troubles,” it added, rather genially.

“Ah? Indeed!” said I. “And may I ask how you know I am in trouble?”

“Certainly you may,” said the old fellow. “We ghosts know everything.”

“Then you are a ghost, eh?” I queried, although I knew mighty well at the moment I first saw him that he was nothing more, he was so transparent and misty.

“At your service,” was the reply, as my unexpected visitor handed me a gelatinouslooking card, upon which was engraved the following legend:

* U. P. BILLS, M.D., *

* *

“The Spook Philanthropist.” *

* Troubles Cured While You Wait. *

“Ah!” said I, as I read it. “You’ll find me a troublesome patient, I am afraid. Do you know what my trouble is?”

“Certainly I do,” said Bills. “You’re a little short and your wife and children have expectations.”

“Precisely,” said I. “And here is Christmas on top of us and nothing for the tree except a few trifling gems and other things.”

“Well, my dear fellow,” said the kindly visitant, “if you’ll intrust yourself to my care I’ll cure you in a jiffy. There never was a case of immediate woe that I couldn’t cure, but you’ve got to have confidence in me.”

“Sort of faith cure, eh?” I smiled.

“Exactly,” he replied. “If you don’t believe in Old Bills, Old Bills cannot relieve your distress.”

“But what do you propose to do, Doctor?” I asked. “What is your course of treatment?”

“That’s my business,” he retorted. “You don’t ask your family physician to outline his general plan to you when you summon him to treat you for gout, do you?”

“Well, I generally like to know more of him than I know of you,” said I, apologetically, for I had no wish to offend him. “For instance, are you allopath, or a homoeopath, or some hitherto untrodden path?”

“Something of a homoeopath,” he admitted.

“Then you cure trouble with trouble?” I asked, rather more pertinently, as the event showed, than I imagined.

“I cure trouble with ease,” he replied glibly. “You may accept or reject my services. It’s immaterial to me.”

“I don’t wish to seem ungrateful, Doctor,” said I, seeing that the old spook was growing a trifle irritated. “I certainly most gratefully accept. What do you want me to do?”

“Go home,” he said, laconically.

“But the empty tree?” I demanded.

“Will not be empty to-morrow morning,” said he, and he vanished.

I locked my study door and started to walk home, first stopping at the cafe down-stairs and cashing a check for $60,000. I had confidence in Old Bills, but I thought I would provide against possible failure; and I had an idea that on the way up-town I might perhaps find certain little things to please, if not satisfy, the children, which could be purchased for that sum. My surmise was correct, for, while Old Bills did his work, as will soon be shown, most admirably, I had no difficulty in expending the $60,000 on simple little things really worth having, between Pine Street and Forty-second. For instance, as I passed along Union Square I discovered a superb pair of pearl hat-pins which I knew would please my second daughter, Jenny, because they were just suited to the immediate needs of the talking doll she had received from her aunt on her birthday. They were cheap little pins, but as I paid down the $1,800 they cost in crisp hundred dollar bills they looked so stunningly beautiful that I wondered if, after all, they mightn’t prove sufficient for little Jenny’s whole Christmas, if Bills should fail. Then I met poor old Hobson, who has recently met reverses. He had an opera-box for sale for $2,500, and I bought it for Martha, my third daughter, who, though only seven years old, frequently entertains her little school friends with all the manner of a woman of fashion. I felt that the opera-box would please the child, although it was not on the grand tier. I also killed two birds with one stone by taking a mortgage for $10,000 on Hobson’s house, by which I not only relieved poor old Hobson’s immediate necessities, but, by putting the mortgage in my son Jimmy’s stocking, enriched the boy as well. So it went. By the time I reached home the $60,000 was spent, but I felt that, brought up as they had been, the children would accept the simple little things I had brought home to them in the proper spirit. They were, of course, cheap, but my little ones do not look at the material value of their presents. It is the spirit which prompts the gift that appeals to them—Heaven bless ’em! I may add here, too, that my little ones did not even by their manner seem to grudge that portion of the $60,000 spent which their daddy squandered on his immediate impulses, consisting of a nickel extra to a lad who blacked his boots, thirty cents for a cocktail at the club, and a dime to a beggar who insisted on walking up Fifth Avenue with him until he was bought off with the coin mentioned—a species of blackmail which is as intolerable as it is inevitable on all fashionable thoroughfares.

But their delight as well as my own on the following morning, when the doctor’s fine work made itself manifest, was glorious to look upon. I frankly never in my life saw so magnificent a display of gifts, and I have been to a number of recent millionaire weddings, too. To begin with, the most conspicuous thing in the room was the model of a steam yacht which Old Bills had provided as the family gift to myself. It was manifest that the yacht could not be got into the house, so Bills had had the model sent, and with it the information that the yacht itself was ready at Cramp’s yard to go into commission whenever I might wish to have it. It fairly took my breath away. Then for my wife was a rope of pearls as thick as a cable, and long enough to accommodate the entire week’s wash should the laundress venture to borrow it for any such purpose. All the children were fitted out in furs; there were four gold watches for the boys, diamond tiaras and necklaces of pearls and brilliant rings for the girls. My eldest son received not only the horses and carriages and the Corot he wanted, but a superb gold-mounted toilet set, and a complete set of golf clubs, the irons being made of solid silver, the shafts of ebony, with a great glittering diamond set in the handle of each; these all in a caddy bag of sealskin, the fur shaved off. There was a charming little naphtha launch and a horseless carriage for Jimmy, and, as for the baby, it was very evident that Old Bills had a peculiarly tender spot in his ghostly makeup for children. I doubt if the finest toyshops of Paris ever held toys in greater variety or more ingenious in design. There were two armies of soldiers made of aluminum which marched and fought like real little men, a band of music at the head of each that discoursed the most stirring music, cannons that fired real shot—indeed, all the glorious panoply of war was there in miniature, lacking only blood, and I have since discovered that even this was possible, since every one of the little soldiers was so made that his head could be pulled off and his body filled with red ink. Then there was a miniature office building of superb architectural design, with little steam elevators running up and down, and throngs of busy little creatures, manipulated by some ingenious automatic arrangement, rushing hither and thither like mad, one and all seemingly engaged upon some errand of prodigious commercial import. Another delightful gift for the baby was a small opera-house, and a complete troupe of little wax prime donne, and zinc tenors, and brass barytones, with patent removable chests, within which small phonographs worked so that the little things sang like so many music-boxes, while in the chairs and boxes and galleries were matinee girls and their escorts and their bonnets and their enthusiastic applause—truly I never dreamed of such magnificent things as Old Bills provided for the occasion. He had indeed got me out of my immediate difficulty, and when I went to bed that night, after the happiest Christmas I had ever known, I called down the richest blessings upon his head; and why, indeed, should I not? We had between $400,000 and $500,000 worth of presents in the house, and they had not cost me a penny, outside of the $60,000 I had spent on the way up-town, and what could be more conducive to one’s happiness than such a Yuletide Klondike as that?

This was many years ago, dear reader, before the extravagant methods of the present day crept into and somewhat poisoned the Christmas spirit, but from that day to this Old Bills has never ceased to haunt me. He has been my constant companion from that glorious morning until to-day, when I find myself telling you of him, and, save at the beginning of every recurring month, when I am always very busy and somewhat anxious about making ends meet, his society is never irksome. Once you get used to Bills he becomes a passion, and were it not for his singular name I think I should find him a constant source of joy.

It rather dampened my ardor, I must confess, when I found that the initials of the good old doctor, U. P., stood for Un Paid, but if you can escape the chill and irksomeness of that there is no reason why the poorest of us all may not derive much real joy in life from the good things we can get through Bills.

In justice to the readers of this little tale, I should perhaps say, in conclusion, that I read it to my wife before sending it out, and she asserts that it was all a dream, because she says she never received that rope of pearls. To which I retorted that she deserved to, anyhow—but, dream or otherwise, the visitation has truly been with me for many years, and I fear the criticism of my spouse is somewhat prompted by jealousy, for she has stated in plain terms that she would rather go without Christmas than see me constantly haunted by Bills; but, after all, it is a common condition, and it does help one at Christmas time in an era when the simple observance of the season, so characteristic of the olden time, has been superseded by a lavish expenditure which would bring ruin to the richest of us were it not for the benign influence of Bills, M.D.

Over the Plum-Pudding, John Kendrick Bangs, 1901

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Another holiday amusement from John Kendrick Bangs, author of that Christmas ghost story classic, “The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall.”

 

Reginald on Christmas Presents by Saki: 1904

Useless, homemade Christmas gifts, 1906

Useless, homemade Christmas gifts, 1906

The incomparable Saki on Christmas presents.

Reginald on Christmas Presents.

I wish it to be distinctly understood (said Reginald) that I don’t want a “George, Prince of Wales” Prayer-book as a Christmas present. The fact cannot be too widely known.

There ought (he continued) to be technical education classes on the science of present-giving. No one seems to have the faintest notion of what anyone else wants, and the prevalent ideas on the subject are not creditable to a civilised community.

There is, for instance, the female relative in the country who “knows a tie is always useful,” and sends you some spotted horror that you could only wear in secret or in Tottenham Court Road. It might have been useful had she kept it to tie up currant bushes with, when it would have served the double purpose of supporting the branches and frightening away the birds–for it is an admitted fact that the ordinary tomtit of commerce has a sounder aesthetic taste than the average female relative in the country.

Then there are aunts. They are always a difficult class to deal with in the matter of presents. The trouble is that one never catches them really young enough. By the time one has educated them to an appreciation of the fact that one does not wear red woollen mittens in the West End, they die, or quarrel with the family, or do something equally inconsiderate. That is why the supply of trained aunts is always so precarious.

There is my Aunt Agatha, par exemple, who sent me a pair of gloves last Christmas, and even got so far as to choose a kind that was being worn and had the correct number of buttons. But–they were nines! I sent them to a boy whom I hated intimately: he didn’t wear them, of course, but he could have–that was where the bitterness of death came in. It was nearly as consoling as sending white flowers to his funeral. Of course I wrote and told my aunt that they were the one thing that had been wanting to make existence blossom like a rose; I am afraid she thought me frivolous–she comes from the North, where they live in the fear of Heaven and the Earl of Durham. (Reginald affects an exhaustive knowledge of things political, which furnishes an excellent excuse for not discussing them.) Aunts with a dash of foreign extraction in them are the most satisfactory in the way of understanding these things; but if you can’t choose your aunt, it is wisest in the long-run to choose the present and send her the bill.

Even friends of one’s own set, who might be expected to know better, have curious delusions on the subject. I am not collecting copies of the cheaper editions of Omar Khayyam. I gave the last four that I received to the lift-boy, and I like to think of him reading them, with FitzGerald’s notes, to his aged mother. Lift-boys always have aged mothers; shows such nice feeling on their part, I think.

Personally, I can’t see where the difficulty in choosing suitable presents lies. No boy who had brought himself up properly could fail to appreciate one of those decorative bottles of liqueurs that are so reverently staged in Morel’s window–and it wouldn’t in the least matter if one did get duplicates. And there would always be the supreme moment of dreadful uncertainty whether it was creme de menthe or Chartreuse–like the expectant thrill on seeing your partner’s hand turned up at bridge. People may say what they like about the decay of Christianity; the religious system that produced green Chartreuse can never really die.

And then, of course, there are liqueur glasses, and crystallised fruits, and tapestry curtains, and heaps of other necessaries of life that make really sensible presents- -not to speak of luxuries, such as having one’s bills paid, or getting something quite sweet in the way of jewellery. Unlike the alleged Good Woman of the Bible, I’m not above rubies. When found, by the way, she must have been rather a problem at Christmas-time; nothing short of a blank cheque would have fitted the situation. Perhaps it’s as well that she’s died out.

The great charm about me (concluded Reginald) is that I am so easily pleased.

But I draw the line at a “Prince of Wales” Prayer-book.

Reginald, Saki, 1904

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: As the receipient of many ill-advised Christmas boxes, Mrs Daffodil is not surprised to find that there was once a movement (with, it must be admitted, an absurd acronym) to aid the victims of Christmas atrocities such as pictured above.

SOCIETY FOR PREVENTION OF USELESS GIVING IN N.Y.

New York, Nov. 5. The S.P.U.G., which may be recognized as the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving, met with such success in its campaign last Christmas that it is on the warpath early again this year against the useless Christmas present.

“The Spug” are mainly department store girls, who under the leadership of Mrs. O.H.P. Belmont, Miss Annie Morgan, and others who found the years’ savings annually depleted by the obligation to contribute towards presents for men and women “higher up.” The idea of freeing themselves from this “Christmas graft” and all forms of useless giving spread like wild fire and many others joined the crusade.

The leaders liken the movement to that of the “Safe and Sane Fourth” idea which has been so widely adopted. The campaign this year is to be begun with a great rally on November 11. The object of the society is “to eliminate by co-operative effort the custom of giving indiscriminately at Christmas and to further in every way the true Christmas spirit of unselfish and independent thought, good will and sympathetic understanding of the real needs of others.”

Winston-Salem [NC] Journal 6 November 1913: p. 7

A slightly later article added: “Every Spug must wear a membership pin and pledge himself to aid in the fight against the useless Christmas present. The cost of the pin is covered in the membership dues, which are 10 cents a year. Five hundred persons enrolled in Washington in one day, according to reports received by the Spugs’ headquarters here.”

Mrs Daffodil has previously written on little Bertie’s quest for hand-made presents, choosing presents for soldiers, and hints for gentlemen attempting to choose presents for ladies. That generous person over at Hauntedohiobooks.com tells of “Leeches, Radium, and a Corpse in a Box:” strange Christmas presents of the past.

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.

 

A Children’s Christmas Cottage: 1850s

orianda house

Orianda House, on the Winan’s Crimea Estate near Baltimore, Maryland

CHRISTMAS IN THE CRIMEA.

“The Crimea is the home of a country estate within pleasant driving distance of the city of Baltimore, belonging to Mr. Thomas Winans of Russian railway fame.

Close by the suburban mansion is a cottage, or rather, an elegant and commodious playhouse, which Santa Claus erected in a single night for the Winans children about twenty years since. Grace Greenwood, a frequent guest of the family, says of it:

“The small mansion was constructed in sections, and the furniture manufactured to order in town; everything marvelously complete. The children knew nothing of it. There was nothing on the lawn before their windows when they went to bed on Christmas Eve, but while they slept there were mysterious arrivals of wagons and workmen from Baltimore, and great doings by moonlight and lamplight. All night they worked, the carpenters and upholsterers, and at dawn gathered up their traps like the fairies and as silently stole away. In the morning the mother going to take the children, happened to look out on the lawn, and with an excellent imitation of innocence, exclaimed at the surprising sight, and then of course, the children ran pell-mell to see what the marvelous thing could be, and beheld the charming little villa, gay and bright, its windows flashing in the sun, and a fancy flag floating from its tower. The edifice was not of such fairy proportions that they could not keep house in it handsomely, and entertain their little friends and mamma and even papa, if he could stoop a little and make himself as small as he comfortably could. Washington Letter to N. Y. Times, May 4th, 1874.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A charming fancy!  Not unlike the parents who assemble toys and bicycles on Christmas Eve, only rather on a more extravagant scale.

The Winans residence on the Crimea Estate, known as Orianda House, still stands.  The children’s villa was a miniature replica. One can judge by the photo-gravures of the elaborate mansion how charming it must have been. Mrs Daffodil is told by the caretaker that the structure survived until the 1950s, but it has vanished. However the mansion is open for visitors and events. Here is more information on the house and the Winans family.

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.

 

A Christmas Box Party: 1907

wrapped presents

A Novel Christmas Box Party

“Please come to my box party next Tuesday afternoon at two. Bring a pair of scissors and an apron to protect your gown.”

Well, of all the invitations that from time to time have reached my desk, this was certainly a new one. I responded with keen interest, to find as usual that the clever woman was nothing if not original. The room was literally full to overflowing with boxes of all sizes and descriptions. There were a number of sewing tables, tubes of library paste, and numerous rolls of crepe tissue paper of holly and poinsettia designs. Then there was plain red crepe paper, and scarlet ribbon, and all sorts of Christmas “stickers” or seals.

This was the idea as outlined by the hostess: “Last year,” she said, “I received a number of dainty Christmas gifts—a plate, homemade candy, handkerchiefs, etc., and they were done up in the most attractive boxes. On pricing them, I found the cost almost doubled the original sum expended on the gifts, so I hit upon the scheme of making them. As I hate to do anything alone, I asked you all to help me and each to make one or two boxes for your own use.”

“And that explains why the ‘clever woman’ has fairly haunted the dry goods stores for empty boxes, why the man of the house has appeared with his arms laden with bumptious packages, and why there has been a corner in the market on Christmas papers,” said the little neighbor from over the way. At half after four, I wish you could have seen the array of really beautiful boxes; some were covered with plain red paper, the little seals being used for a border or in a decorative conventional design. One lady said she hadn’t had so much fun since she went to kindergarten. Here seems to be a fascination about cutting and pasting paper that charms not only children, but grown-ups as well.

For refreshments we had delicious tea made in the drawing room, served with a spoonful of brandied cherries in each cup, and the most delectable muffins with cranberries in them. I should think a “box” table at a church bazaar would be a profitable undertaking.

“Dame Curtsey’s” book of novel entertainments for every day in the year, Ellye Howell Glover, 1907

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The hostess was indeed very clever to disguise a work-party as a pleasant holiday entertainment. One hopes that the guests got more than a spoonful of brandied cherries and one or two boxes for their own use for supplying the scissors, apron, and labour. Mrs Daffodil is well-aquainted with the idea of a box party. In England we call it Boxing Day and there is no nonsense about making one’s own container.

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.

Should Mrs Daffodil’s readers prefer to celebrate St Nicholas Day, there is a post over at the Haunted Ohio blog on historic cribs of the Infant Jesus.

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.