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The Rushden Echo, 25th December, 1903, transcribed by Gill Hollis
Christmas Games 1903

Children’s Christmas Budget
There is always a demand for games at this season of the year, so we are going to suggest
several old ones that may keep a party of brothers and sisters and cousins and friends happily
amused, and no doubt some of the elders will join in for the fun of the thing.


Any number can play at “Telegrams”. Each must have a piece of paper and pencil; one person then gives out twelve letters, any letters she likes to choose. Then the speaker gives out whom the telegram is to, and whom it is from. You put the twelve letters in this way:


You must make a telegram with a meaning, as with these letters one could say: “Come By Next Train Your Mother Ill, Will Send To Meet You.” Then one person reads the different telegrams out, not saying whom they are from. The more people play, the more amusing is the game.

Blowing Out The Candle

  No end of fun is created by this simple, innocent game. It is greatly interesting to old people and to children, for in many cases those who have prided themselves on the accuracy of their calculating powers and the clearness of their mental vision have found themselves utterly defeated in it. A lighted candle must be placed on a small table at one end of the room with plenty of walking space left clear in front of it. One of the company is invited to blow out the flame blindfolded.  Should anyone volunteer he is placed exactly in front of the candle while the bandage is being fastened on his eyes, and told to take three steps back, turn round three times, then take three steps forward, and blow out the light.  No directions could sound more simple.  The opinion that there is nothing in it has often been expressed by those who have never seen the game played.  Not many people, however, are able to manage it, the reason why you will soon find out if you decide to give the game a trial.

Blind Pig

A blackboard is serviceable on occasion, as for the game of Blind Pig. Each guest in turn is blindfolded and led to the blackboard, given chalk, and told to draw a pig. The animal would scarce recognise himself in some of the pictures. A prize is usually offered for the best drawing. Let no one think this is a game for babes, and let him try it if he wants a good laugh.

A Surprise Game

For noisy young people who want to express their feelings electric shock is a good game. The person to be “shocked” is sent out while the room is prepared. A table is cleared of its cloth and various articles put on here and there – inkpots, ashtrays, paper-knives, or vases, anything that is handy. The victim is then brought in and told that one of these articles on the table will give him the electric shock if he touches it. He goes to the table, round three sides of which the other players stand with fingers lightly joined. Gingerly he touches the inkpot and vase, with no result till he puts his hand out for the eighth time. As his fingers come in contact with the article on the table all the other players give a terrific yell or war whoop, which will startle him quite as much as an electric shock.

Brothers of Pity

Large pieces of newspaper are twisted into sugar-loaf caps to completely cover the heads of the players. Two small oval holes are cut in each cap, so that only the eyes of the wearer can be seen. Six or eight persons don the disguise, and sit in a row with a big sheet or tablecloth held in front to conceal the whole of their bodies. The “brothers” should be put in a good light, and the rest of the company brought in to guess their names. The fun lies in the fact that one’s nearest and dearest is often a little doubtful as to the colour of one’s eyes, and much laughter is provoked by the mistakes made.

Tom Thumb and His Wife

For a children’s party try the following device: Place four chairs at one end of the room and throw over them a large blanket or shawl to cover them completely down to the floor. Have some one double up his hands into fists, and on the back of the hands with a piece of charcoal paint eyes, nose, and mouth, and on one of them paint a moustache. Put doll’s dresses on the arms, reaching down to the elbows. Put hoods or caps on the hands. Let the person thus prepared to crawl in between the chairs, and resting the elbows on the floor, hold his forearm perpendicular, so that the backs of the hands will be facing the audience. All the rest of the person’s body should be concealed, of course, under the shawl. Call these two little people Tom Thumb and his wife. Have someone for their manager, who should stand in front of the chairs and tell them what to do. The manager should explain why Tom has a dress on. He can have them perform a number of clever tricks, such as bowing to the audience, kissing each other, pushing each other, &c. They can answer questions in a little, fine voice, or say “How do you do?” It will be found that this entertainment will please the little folks immensely.

Ring My Lady’s Finger

A girl sits at one side of the room, holding up her forefinger. All the rest of the company are at the opposite side of the room, which is cleared of its furniture, so that no stool, or chair, or table may trip up the one who tries to ring the finger. The ring may be of any size, but a large one like a curtain ring is preferable, as it is needful that it should slip on readily. Each player goes in turn to ring the finger, and the one who succeeds is the lady’s squire for the rest of the evening. It is unnecessary to say that each player is blindfolded carefully before he makes the attempt. It is curious to notice how very wide of the mark some players go when blindfolded. The game is to carefully note the position of the lady before the bandage is put on, then, with outstretched ring, to proceed with all care in her direction.

The Key of The King’s Garden

This is a game which may be varied in many ways. The plan is for one to give a sentence: “I give you the key of the King’s garden.” The next person repeats the words with an addition : “I give you the string that holds the key of the King’s garden.” Then the third add : “I give you the scissors to cut the string that holds the key of the King’s garden.” A forth : “I give you a patent file to sharpen the scissors to cut the string that holds the key of the King’s garden.” A fifth : “I give you a box to hold, &c.,” and so on, till one player fails and pays forfeit.

The Christmas Bag

Fill with sugarplums a large bag of thin white paper, and tie a string round the top to keep it fast. Then suspend it to the centre of a large door frame (the folding door, for instance), or to the ceiling, if convenient. Each of the children must be blindfolded in turn, and provided with a long stick. They are then led within reach of the bag, and directed to try while blindfolded to strike the bag with the stick, and are allowed to make three attempts, after which, if unsuccessful, they must give place to the next. The play goes on in this manner till some one strikes the bag with the stick so as to tear a hole in the paper, upon which the sugarplums fall out and are scattered over the floor, when all the children scramble for them. For older children there may be a second bag filled with little books, small pincushions, bodkins, beads, ribbon-yards, and things of a similar description.

Parlour Thought-Reading

Here a confederate is necessary. The thought-reader retires from the room, and the confederate asks the company to think of a number on some particular bank-note. After a certain number has been fixed upon, the thought-reader is called in, and is asked to discover the number which has been thought upon. The confederate takes seat among the rest of the company, and the though-reader proceeds to go round the company, placing his fingers gently on the temples of each individual as if he were endeavouring to discover their thoughts by this means. When he has done round the entire company, he stands in a attitude of abstracted thought, and then declares at once the correct number. The method of performing this trick will test the ingenuity of even very clever individuals to discover how it is done. When the wizard places his fingers on the temples of the confederate, the confederate, whose mouth is closed, clenches his teeth as many times as the number requires. For instance, suppose that the number is 65 – he would then clench his teeth six times, make a pause, then five times. Now, how does the clenching of the teeth indicate the number to the wizard? Just press your fingers to your temples and try the operation, and you will know at once, for each time the teeth are clenched there is a distinct motion felt at the temple, and these motions may easily be counted by the though-reader.

Round The Yule Log - Burning The Yule Log

The burning of the Yule log, though still observed by many people, is a practice which has been sadly shorn of its ancient glories. Probably of Scandinavian origin, it for centuries held an honoured place in the revels of the time, being drawn into the great hall of country houses with much form and ceremony. All who passed the Yule log as it was being dragged along the ground on Christmas Eve to its destination saluted it, minstrels would welcome its entrance with music and song, and the dimensions these so-called “logs” sometime attained may be judged from the following extract from the Gentleman’s Magazine for 1790 : “The size of these logs of wood, which were, in fact, great trees, may be calculated from hence : that, in the time of the civil wars of the last century, Captain Hosier (I suppose of the Berwick family) burnt the house of Mr. Barker of Haghmond Abbey, near Shrewsbury, by setting fire to the Yule log.” Quaint old Berrick thus records some of the ceremonies which attended the great annual function :-

Come, bring with a noise,
My merry, merry boys,
The Christmas log to the firing,
While my good dame, she
Bids ye all be free.
And drink to your hearts’ desiring,
With the last year’s brand
Light the new block, and
For good success in his spending,
On your psalteries play,
That sweet luck may
Come while the log is a-teending (burning),
Drink now the strong beer,
Cut the white loaf here,
The while the meat is a-shredding,
For the rare mince pie,
And the plums stand by,
To fill the paste that’s a-kneading.

Christmas in a Floating Church

On the North Sea thousands of fishing-vessels are occupied all the year round following the schools of fish that are always moving from one place to another. Among this great fleet the vessels of the Deep-Sea Mission are always to be found. They each contain a large cabin, in which services are held, the congregation being drawn from the crews of the fishing vessels.

On Christmas Day special services are held in these floating churches, just as they would be on shore. The men who attend the services probably have to row two or three miles on a rough sea in the biting cold of a December morning; but in the floating church they find warmth and comfort.

After the service a well-served Christmas dinner is given, at which the customary pudding, with the regulation sprig of holly, appears. Then all the old Christmas ballads are sung by the blue-jerseyed fishermen, to the accompaniment of a small harmonium and the sound of the wind and waves.

At the great cod-fisheries on the Banks of Newfoundland the floating churches are on an even larger scale. In some cases they are steam vessels, that remain at sea for six or even twelve months at a time, following the fleet of fishing-vessels.

Christmas Experiences

Christmastide undoubtedly brings joys and promotes happiness in the family circle; possibly it causes temporary discomfort to the dyspeptic individual who is forbidden by that dear (in a double sense) friend, the family medical adviser, to eat of the juicy goose, the savoury sucking-pig or tempting turkey. Christmas means also to paterfamilias not only the receipt of Yuletide greetings, but likewise the intimation that quarter-day is in the neighbourhood; such knowledge usually produces bil(l)ious attacks. Nevertheless, Father Christmas will put in his annual appearance; so, as the song says “Christmas comes but once a year,” let us give our hoary-headed old friend a hearty welcome, draw our chairs around the fire, and let there be jest, song, and story. Forget misfortunes, lay aside sorrows, banish animosities, and unite in promoting peace and goodwill towards all.

The Festival of Christmas

The Festival of Christmas goes back to a very early date. We have notices of it as early as the third century. It was not, however, always kept on the same day. Clement of Alexandria says that some kept it on May 20th, others a month earlier. The Church of Constantinople (A.D. 381) fixed December 25th as the day. Before the council of Ephesus (431), the Egyptians had also altered the time to December 25th. The Churches of Antioch and Syria adopted the same date. Other Churches followed, but the Armenian Church still observes the Festival along with the Epiphany, January 6th. The Western Church seems to have held the Feast of the Nativity on December 25th as far back as can be traced, and the Manifestation as a second festival. This is seen to be so in the middle of the fourth century. The two festivals were known by the name of “Theo hania and Epiphania”; also “prima et secunda Nativitas.” The three Saints’ Days which immediately follow Christmas Day, Namely, St. Stephen’s Day, St. John the Evangelist’s Day, and the Innocents’ Day, are said by St, Bernard, in the twelfth century, to have formed one connected festival.

Legends of Hidden Bells

One of the prettiest legends that belong to this season is that of the ringing of hidden bells. In quite a number of places this superstition exists. It found credence at one time in Berwickshire; and it is believed at Kilgrimol, near Blackpool, that if one bends his ear to the ground at Christmas he will bear the bells of a hidden church ringing out their glad message of hope. A similar belief is entertained at Raleigh, in Nottinghamshire. An earthquake occurred at that place some hundreds of years ago, and one of its remains is a well-defined valley. It is common for the old people of the place to regale the children with the story that if they go down the valley on Christmas morning and stoop down they will hear a merry peal from the bells of a church that was swallowed up by the earthquake. Among English miners, too, this superstition is common, and many of them have been heard to say that deep down in the mines Christmastide is made happy and festive by the ringing of hidden bells.

The Sacred Bough

Mistletoe seems now inseparable from Christmas, but it was not always so. The use of the mistletoe in our Christmas festivities is generally conceded to be a survival of Druidic ceremonial. Looking back now, we can see that to this worship of the mistletoe, and the wonderful cures the Druids effected by means of it, was due much of the veneration in which they themselves were held. To them it was of Divine origin, possessing powers for healing and curing disease that gave it the name of “curer of all ills,” or the “all-heal.” The ceremonial rites connected with the worship of the mistletoe were performed on a scale of great magnificence, in the sacred month of December, during the feast that ushered in the New Year. The time for the beginning of these rites was announced by the priests, who went about shouting outside the houses, “New all-heal; new all-heal!” or “The new year is at hand, gather the mistletoe.” The cry was followed by the congregating of the people in great crowds, to follow the priests in solemn procession, as all went into the woods to search for the sacred plant. Two white bulls were taken for sacrificial purposes, while the three most ancient pontiffs carried respectively a bowl of bread, wine and water, and a hand of ivory attached to a wand, this representing power and justice. It must have been an imposing procession, with the ancient pontiffs in full ceremonial costume leading the way, followed by the bards and priests of various ranks, each in the costume of his order, and following these the people, all eager to find the mystic plant that was a panacea against all ills and the true source of happiness to all who could possess it.

Christmas Charms and Spells

Below are some old charms and spells for seeing into the future at this time of the year. This one is for Christmas Eve. Procure some berries from off a fresh piece of mistletoe (not exceeding nine in number) and put them to steep in a liquid composed of equal proportions of wine, beer, vinegar, and honey. Take them fasting before going to bed on an empty stomach, and you will dream of your future destiny. You must retire to rest before twelve.

Here is a charm for New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Eve, previous to retiring to rest, pull twelve hairs from your head and plait them into the form of a ring. Put them into a Prayer-book at the place where the Marriage Service commences, taking care not to speak, and your future husband will appear to you in your dream.

The Witches’ Chain is a very weird Christmas spell. Let three girls join in making a long chain – about a yard will do – of holly, juniper, and mistletoe berries, and at the end of every link put an oak acorn. Exactly before midnight let them assemble in a room by themselves, where no one can disturb them; leave a window open, and take the key out of the keyhole and hang it over the chimney-piece; have a good fire, and place in the midst of it a long, thinnish log of wood, well sprinkled with oil, salt, and fresh mould; then wrap the chain round it, each girl having an equal share in the business; then sit down, and on the left knee let each girl have a Prayer-book opened at the Marriage Service. Just as the last acorn is burnt, the future husband will cross the room; each one will see her own spouse, but he will be invisible to the rest. Those that are not to wed will see a coffin, or some misshapen form, cross the room. Go to bed instantly, and you will all have remarkable dreams. This must be done either on a Wednesday or a Friday night, but no other.

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