My 52 Weeks With Christie:
Random (And Almost Relevant) Facts:
Anyone out there ever heard of Snapdragon before? Yes? No? Well, prior to reading Hallowe’en Party I never had. The only reference point I had was the British tradition of dousing a Christmas Pudding with brandy and setting it alight at the end of Christmas dinner. But Snapdragon, from Christie’s description, sounded far more boisterous, chaotic and merry compared to my single point of reference.
Fun Fact: Apparently Christmas/Plum Puddings never caught on on this side of the pond due in large part to the U.S.’s Puritan & Quaker roots, as they considered it, “the invention of the scarlet whore of Babylon”. Which seems a rather harsh view of a pudding.
Since Snapdragon played such a crucial role in Hallowe’en Party, by giving the murderer the perfect distraction/opportunity to commit their dastardly deed, I decided to investigate.
And much to my surprise I discovered this description in an 1855 party guide called:
Home Games For The People: A Collection of Family Amusements For The Fire-Side, Parlour, or Pic-Nic Parties; Consisting of Games of Action; Games simply taxing the Attention; Catch Games, depending on the assistance of an Accomplice; Games requiring the Exercise of Fancy, Memory, Intelligence and Imagination. For The Use of the Old and Young.
(Yes, that’s the title.)
This guide’s instructions (along with several others I discovered) tallies with Christie’s description of events at that fateful Halloween Party attended Ariadne Oliver – pretty blue flames which posed a slight risk of injury, alcohol saturated raisins which cause a mess when plucked from the bowl and participants who enjoyed the diversion immensely.
However, what I found most surprising, after reading the lengthy title page, was the fact the publisher was located in New York! So with a bit more perusing, I discovered Snapdragon was played from about the 16th to 19th centuries in England, Canada, and the United States. (Apparently, the Puritans and Quakers found fault with a pudding but filling a bowl full of spirits, raisins and fire then sending their children to play in it was fine.)
Raisins were the preferred treat. However, currents, figs, grapes, plums or almonds could be substituted if needed or suited the audience better. Originally a Christmas Eve activity it eventually evolved into a Twelfth Night and Halloween diversion as well – which Christie’s mystery illustrates.
Fun Fact: Our esteemed authoress keeps great literary company, both Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll mention Snapdragon in their works as well.
Three guesses why this tradition died out…and the first two don’t count.
While the liquor, flames, and fruit delighted the younger set and made holiday parties a smashing success, these very same elements often made the day after a bit of a misery for the unlucky. Who wants to spend Christmas Day nursing singed fingers and blistered mouth? (And depending on how quick you snatched the raisins out, the younger participates might get a slight hangover – the spirits don’t burn off as quick as you’d think.) So around the beginning of the twentieth century the observance of this custom begun dying out.
Interestingly, its decline in popularity coincides when Christie was growing up – so perhaps she played Snapdragon as a child? No clue. But due to its waning popularity, it explains why the none of the Halloween party-goers notice the killer leading their victim from the room – because Snapdragon could indeed have been a rare treat by 1969!
Fun Fact: According to Atlas Obscura, Snapdragon had an adult variant called Flapdragon. In Flapdragon a lit candle was dropped into a mug of ale, then the individual attempted to down the contents without setting their mustaches, beard or hair on fire.
Now to give you guys a complete picture of this Victorian holiday tradition, I took it upon myself to play a game of Snapdragon.
Purely for due diligence purposes, you understand.
I did, however, decide against playing Flapdragon. Which either proves I am now an adult with an iota of common sense or am merely reluctant to explain to every ER doctor/nurse/lab assistant on duty that I sustained my burns by willingly drinking a beer with a lit candle in it – could go either way.
Plus I already have enough outrageous emergency room anecdotes, thank you.
When I proposed my thrilling new Wednesday night adventure, my husband regretfully declined my invitation. Stating that watching me dip my fingers into fire, popping something on fire into my mouth, while undoubtedly standing to close to the fire was incompatible with one of his primary drives – my safety.
He did not find Snapdragon a safer alternative to Flapdragon.
So while he sat in the other room playing video games, and definitely not making sure the fire extinguisher and car keys were handy – I played Snapdragon on our balcony!
The flames were lovely. And even better? No burns or blisters to report! Though I am glad, I decided to light the bourbon (we didn’t have any brandy) outside, because a little bit goes a long way, and I used a bit too much! The flames got a bit higher than anticipated but other than that it went great!
I can definitely see why both the children & adult’s full attention was on the Snapdragon in Hallowe’en Party! It’s entertaining and scary all at the same time!
*BTW – Don’t try this without a Responsible adult present! Fire is still dangerous, the Victorians were just plain crazy or bored, either way, while this post (is hopefully) funny – this activity is not to be taken lightly. Burns and/or real fires can result. So be it on your head if you try it!