Parlour games were played throughout Christmas and during the 12th Night celebrations in Jane Austen’s era.
One favourite at Godmersham Park was Bullet Pudding, as described by Fanny Knight, Jane Austen’s niece, in a letter written to her friend, Miss Dorothy Chapman of Faversham:
Godmersham Park, 17 January 1804
…I was surprised to hear that you did not know what a Bullet Pudding is, but as you don’t I will endeavour to describe it as follows:
You must have a large pewter dish filled with flour which you must pile up into a sort of pudding with a peek at top. You must then lay a bullet at top and everybody cuts a slice of it, and the person that is cutting it when it falls must poke about with their noses and chins till they find it and then take it out with their mouths of which makes them strange figures all covered with flour but the worst is that you must not laugh for fear of the flour getting up your nose and mouth and choking you: You must not use your hands in taking the Bullet out.
Here is an illustration by Francis Hayman of the game which was a favourite throughout the 18th into the 19th, century but not, I daresay, with the chambermaids who would have been charged with cleaning the resulting mess. This picture shows the moment when the bullet fell:
Bullet pudding was also on the menu of seasonable activities Fanny enjoyed two years later at Christmas in 1806:
Different amusements every evening! We had Bullet Pudding, then Snap-Dragon, & . . . we danced or played at cards
What was snap- dragon? It was another parlour game, but one specifically played in winter in the dark, for it involved picking raisins and almonds out of a punch bowl of flaming spirits, usually brandy. The blue flame of the lit brandy would have looked spectacular in a darkened room, very similar to effect producted by the tradition of flaming the Christmas Pudding with brandy.
In his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) Francis Gosse defined the game as follows:
Christmas gambol: raisins and almonds being put into a bowl of brandy, and the candles extinguished, the spirit is set on fire, and the company scramble for the raisins
Though brandy does not burn at a particularly high heat it was still possible to be scorched and the point of the fun was to watch peoples expressions as they darted their fingers through the flames, picking out the fruit or nuts. Jolly.