A Christmas Eve parlour game played in Victorian England involved grabbing burning raisins with your hands and eating them while they were still alight.

Robert Chambers. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Flapdragon, also known as snapdragon, has been around for centuries but hit its heyday in Victorian England. It involved four simple steps:

  1. Get some raisins or plums. The bigger the better.
  2. Put them in a bowl and cover them in brandy.
  3. Set them on fire.
  4. Grab a piece of fruit, alight with blue flame, and eat it whole – flame and all.

This sounds ridiculously dangerous, but the raisins aren’t actually that hot. Dryden called it “mock fire that never burns.” Michael Faraday (yup, the same guy who discovered electromagnetism) wrote in an essay that the raisins were essentially functioning as candlewicks:

When you have put the spirit into the dish, you have the cup and the fuel; and are not the raisins acting like the wicks?

This was a popular parlour game: it is mentioned by name in Shakespeare, Dickens, Trollope, and Lewis Carroll. I am reliably informed that many people play it still – as in the video below. I haven’t tried it myself, but I’m proud to say that I helped to write the Wikipedia article on this topic so I’m contributing to the delinquency of youth in my own way.

One Reply to “Flapdragon”

  1. I love learning about games like this, especially because it challenges the view that Victorians were always prim and proper. In my mind, flapdragon has a wonderful chaotic energy to it, and is accompanied by gleeful noise and potentially, Victorian swearing.

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