Old Fashioned Christmas Parties (1870s)

Christmas Parties.—

At the joyous season of Christmas, when families generally assemhbe round the paternal hearth, and when the very young as well as the very old are supposed to feel the genial influence of that happy time, family parties are very common, and the amusements are of a more mixed nature—more suited to various ages, as well as more homelike and unconventional in their character, than the crowded assemblies at which many of the elder guests are wont to be found in the spring.

Of late years we have borrowed the pretty German custom of having a Christmas-tree, decorated with fairies, lighted up with coloured tapers, and hung with toys and pretty presents for all members of the family. There is much pleasure in preparing these things, great excitement among the young folks at the drawing of the tickets, and still greater delight when the numbers drawn are attached to articles quite inappropriate to the drawers; when,for example, a fine young dandy draws a baby doll, or a pretty young lady a smoking cap or cigarc ase; when grandpapa draws a lady’s apron, or grandmamma a pair of skates. But these things generally come right in the end, and an exchange of gifts is sure to satisfy every one.

Ribbon Jewellery. — We lately saw some very pretty things, suitable for a Christmas-tree, manufactured by Mr. Stevens, a ribbon weaver of Coventry. Some are book-markers, woven to represent a photograph, on a rich white ribbon about three inches wide, and a verse or two illustrative of the subject is woven in gold letters underneath. Others are in imitation of a leaf from an illuminated missal, very beautifully worked in rich colours. The same manufacturer has also invented a sort of ribbon jewellery, which has the appearance of the Florentine mosaics, and which are pretty and inexpensive ornaments for a Christmastree, and have certainly their novelty to recommend them.

The various puzzles and scientific toys now so frequently invented, are amusing pre sents, and the German wood-carving in imitation of leather is extremely tasteful. The match-boxes, card and cigar cases, purses, &c., made of this apparent leather are useful and lasting as well as pretty.

Charades For A Christmas Party are very easily managed where there is a large party of young people in a country house, and the rehearsals are often productive of more amusement than the actual performance. The same remarks will apply to getting them up, that we gave about private theatricals (see page 309).

Tableaux Vivants are also amusing, and not difficult to arrange where there are rooms having a door of communication between them, or with foldingdoors. The open space must have a curtain, or pair of curtains, that can he drawn at the sides like windowcurtains; the drapery adds to the effect of the tableaux. Behind these curtains stretch common coarse green tarlatan, doubled, to temper the light, which ought to come from the side; and behind the figures put a large foldingscreen, covered with something dark, to give the effect of the background of a picture. The scene chosen ought to be one tolerably easy to be guessed by the spectators. The balcony scene in “Rorneo and Juliet,” the witches in “Macbeth,” the trial scene in the “Merchant of Venice,” &c., are effective as tableaux. If the party are rather juvenile, a scene from ” Sandford and Merton,” “Robinson Crusoe,” or the scene, ” King Alfred and the Cowherd’s Wife,” from the History of England, might be chosen, bearing in mind that it is easier to manage a scene with few figures. Having selected the persons who are to form the living picture, they should be grouped (in costumes suitable to the persons they represent) exactly as the scene would appear if it were a picture; the only difficulty is to keep perfectly still, and to command the countenance. A little practice will make this tolerably easy, and should any little contretemps happen, it will provoke a laugh, more amusing to the spectators, perhaps, than to the unlucky performer.

A Christmas party generally ends with a dance. Few dances are prettier than the cotillon, with which our Parisian neighhours generally end their entertainments, and which is very popular with young people.

The Cotillion.—The yonng lady of the house should select a gentleman who is a good dancer, and who has had some experience in the figures, and arrange with him the order in which they are to be danced; and it is well to have all the things necessary in the room before the dance begins. These are— a hand looking-glass, a basket containing as many different rosettes of ribbon as there are ladies, and one with exactly the same number of counterparts for the gentlemen, a basket of flowers, a nightcap, some coloured crackers, some scent pistols for a duel, and eau de Cologne to replenish them, ribbon reins and whip, and a large screen. These articles may of course be varied, and a little invention often leads to a great success. It is usual to begin with the—

Looking-glass.—A lady is seated on a chair in the middle of the room, holding a hand-glass; all the gentlemen come dancing up behind her, one after another, and look into the glass, which is held so as to enable the lady to see the reflection of each face as it presents itself; from these she makes a selection of one as her partner, and, rising, places the glass on the chair, takes a turn round the room with him in waltz step, and then resumes her seat in the circle, leaving that in the centre of the room for the next lady.

The Rosette.—The leading lady hands round a basket containing the rosettes for the gentlemen, and the gentleman her partner hands theirs to the ladies; each gentleman seeks out the lady who has drawn the counterpart of his rosette and dances round the room with her.

The Four In Hand.—This figure is a pretty one; the gentleman leading takes four ladies, and the lady four gentlemen, and harnesses them with the ribbon reins. At a given signal all stop, and the ladies and gentlemen who have been acting the part of horses dance together. This is repeated several times, till all or most of the company have taken part in it.

The Duel.—In the “duel” the lady is placed in the middle of the circle, armed with one of the scent  pistols (procurable at any perfumer’s for a shilling); her “second” holds eau de Cologne to recharge it; as her victims are brought up she takes aim at their hearts till the favoured one comes, when she fires in the air, accepting him as her partner, while the “second” takes one of the previous victims.

The Bonbons.—Each lady takes one of the crackers, and going up to a gentleman, asks him to guess the colour of the bonbon it contains; he pulls the cracker with her, and if his guess be correct, they dance together.

“La Fleur.”—A flower is given to every dancer, and the ladies first go round, and each pins hers to the coat of the gentleman she wishes to dance with; then they all rise, and waltz round the room once, after which the cavaliers make selection of their partners by presenting the flower.

The Nightcap.—The leading lady takes the nightcap, and seating herself in the centre of the room, the gentlemen come one by one and kneel before her; she decorates the object of her preference with the nightcap, which creates much amusement, and they dance together.

The Cushion Figure.—This is probably the best known of all the figures.  A lady sits in the middle of the room,’ with a sofa cushion laid on the ground before her; the gentlemen all come up each in his turn, and endeavour to kneel on it, but she draws away the cushion with her feet as each one is kneeling down, causing him to come down on his knees on the floor, until she chooses one as her partner, when she does not remove the cushion, but allows him to kneel on it, then getting up herself, she dances off with him.

The Screen.—In the middle of the room is placed a large screen, behind which the ladies hide, each putting out one hand; the gentlemen come up, and each having taken a hand, and sweetly guessing to whom it belongs, dances with its owner. After the first figure, the order in which the subsequent figures are danced is quite immaterial; and when as many have been gone through as the company desire, the good old English dance of ” Sir Roger de Coverley” will be found an excellent “wind-up” for a family Christmas party.

Source: Best of everything, , 1870

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