The following selections with images describe how to do the activity -
Household Monthly 1859 -
"…the long table upon which stood an immense, shallow earthen dish—such as Mrs. Thorndrake used to make batter puddings in - strewn pretty thickly with raisins detached from the stalk... [added] a pint or so of brandy, and then... sprinkled the brandy and raisins plentifully with salt, after which, suddenly lighting a lucifer match he set fire to the spirits and in a moment the flame spread over the dish.
Uncle George plunged both hands, fearlessly, into the flames, and drew them forth full of burning raisins, and puffing out the blue fire he commenced eating the raisins, calling out as he did so... Never fear burning your fingers... blow out the flames as soon as you draw out your hands.”
...“Snap-Dragon” was capital fun, but that burnt raisins were very nice eating also, in spite of the salt and brandy in which they had been soaked."
"This is a Christmas pastime of no great antiquity. Dr. Johnson gravely defines it as “a kind of play, in which brandy is set on fire, and raisins thrown into it, which those who are unused to the sport are afraid to take out, but which may be safely snatched by a quick motion, and put blazing into the mouth, which being closed, the fire is at once extinguished.”
Strutt's account of the affair is somewhat more candid than the lexicographer's : he tells us—“This - - - - bited but in winter, and chiefly at Christmas time : it is simply heating of brandy, or some other ardent spirit, in a dish with raisins; when, the brandy being set on fire, the young folks of both sexes, standing round it, pluck out the raisins, and eat them as hastily as they can, but rarely without burning their hands, or scalding their mouths.”
However, it may soon be decided which definition is the most perfect. The sport affords much fun in a darkened room ; not the least of which is the spectral appearance of the young players from the spirit flame."From Chambers’ Book of Days, 1832 -
"One favourite Christmas sport, very generally played on Christmas Eve, has been handed down to us from time immemorial under the name of 'Snapdragon.' To our English readers this amusement is perfectly familiar, but it is almost unknown in Scotland, and it seems therefore desirable here to give a description of the pastime. A quantity of raisins are deposited in a large dish or bowl (the broader and shallower this is, the better), and brandy or some other spirit is poured over the fruit and ignited. The bystanders now endeavour, by turns, to grasp a raisin, by plunging their hands through the flames; and as this is somewhat of an arduous feat, requiring both courage and rapidity of action, a considerable amount of laughter and merriment is evoked at the expense of the unsuccessful competitors. As an appropriate accompaniment we introduce here"
The Song of Snapdragon
‘Here he comes with flaming bowl,
Don't he mean to take his toll,
Snip! Snap I Dragon!
Take care you don't take too much,
Be not greedy in your clutch,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
With his blue and lapping tongue
Many of you will be stung,
Snip I Snap! Dragon!
For he snaps at all that comes
Snatching at his feast of plums,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
But Old Christmas makes him come,
Though he looks so fee! fa! fum!
Snip! Snap! Dragon I
Don't ‘ee fear him, be but bold—
Out he goes, his flames are cold,
Snip 1 Snap! Dragon!'
"Whilst the sport of Snapdragon is going on, it is usual to extinguish all the lights in the room, so that the lurid glare from the flaming spirits may exercise to the full its weird-like effect. There seems little doubt that in this amusement we retain a trace of the fiery ordeal of the middle ages, and also of the Druidical fire-worship of a still remoter epoch."
Chambers, David. The Book of Days. London: 1832
Ewing, Juliana. Snap-Dragons, A Tale of Christmas Eve… London: 1888
The Household Monthly Dec 1859..Massachusetts
Illustrated London News, Dec. 1847, 1858, 1880
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