Front cover and illustrations from Juliana Horatia Ewing’s Snap-dragons: a tale of Christmas eve; and, Old Father Christmas (Chi PZ7.E85S63). ‘Snap Dragons’ was originally published in the Christmas issue of The Monthly Packet in 1870 and ‘Old Father Christmas’ in the Little folks‘ magazine. The illustrations were by Gordon Browne.
Snap-dragon was a popular parlour game played at Christmas time. It has a long history and is referenced in Shakespeare’s plays. The game involves trying to retrieve raisins out of a wide dish of brandy which has been set alight. In Ewing’s story, after the family play the game on Christmas Eve, young Henry stays up and has a ‘dance with one of the snap-dragons’ which has blazed out of the dish.
The Special Collections team had a go at recreating the game as part of the historical how-to theme in 2013. You can see the University Chaplain playing the game here.