Christmas Past: The Game of General Kettle and Sir Loin

William Wallace Pyle’s 1860 book Christmas: Its Custom and Carols spends much of its time delving into the history of festive celebrations, but also finds room for covering what would, at the time, have been contempoarry Christmas pastimes. One example can be found in the book’s chapter on games: “Nor do we know that a better illustration could be afforded of the actually existing state of Christmas Games,” says Pyle, “than in the following given in last season’s Illustrated London News“.

So, what does a typical festive game of 1860 entail? Why, pretending to be a kitchen utensil and snogging people, of course.

Here is the game’s outline as reproduced from Illustrated London News:

The game begins with General Kettle, who takes the plate (called “the plum-pudding”) between his finger and thumb, ready for spinning on the table, and commences his narrative:—

“As I was sitting on the fire this morning, spluttering with rage at having no enemy to boil, who should come along, in his bag and string, but old plum-pudding! The moment he caught sight of me he ran off — I after him. When, turning round a corner, I ran up against Major O’Mutton.”

At this word General Kettle spins round the “plum-pudding,” which it is Major O’Mutton’s duty to keep up, at the same time continuing the story in his assumed character until he has mentioned “plum-pudding,” and also introduced in his turn the name of an antagonist from the opposite list, who again is required to continue the game.

The two greatest difficulties consist in keeping up the “pudding,” and continuing the story. The first, however, becomes very easy, after a little practice, there being numerous devices to keep it from falling, such as patting it on one side until it recovers the pendicular, or dexterously giving it a twist with finger and thumb, as it slackens its speed. The second is more difficult, but one safe rule may be given. Never think you are yourself — always remember you are muffin, partridge, goose, tongs, toast-rack, or whatever other more or less difficult role you have to play.

Remember, particularly, that forfeits are exigible, first, for letting the “plum-pudding” fall; secondly, for speaking of yourself as a human being; thirdly, for failing to continue the story; fourthly, for omitting to mention “plum-pudding;” and, fifthly, for calling an enemy by a wrong title. One hundred forfeits may form the limit of the game, when the armies are numerous, but less will do when the party is small.

The penalties adjudged in Sir Loin’s army are these:—

Basted — You are followed and beaten with handkerchiefs round the room.

Seasoned — To kiss every lady in the room, in the certainty of having your face slapped in return.

Skewered — Trussed on two walking sticks, and set in a corner until some lady is kind enough to relieve you with a kiss.

Roasted — Walk up to every lady in the room, and should she not wish to kiss you, she will catch you by the arms and give you a turn round, nor are you supposed to be “done to a turn” until some lady condescends to impart a chaste salute.

In General Kettle’s army, the penalties are these:—

Scrubbed — Must ask every lady present to kiss you; any one refusing to scrub your face with a handkerchief, de la sa faqon; but when kissed your doom is ended.

Scoured — The same process.

Sharpened — Two grindstones (gentlemen) try their utmost to prevent your catching and kissing the lady of your selection.

Blackleaded — Must go round asking the company what they think of you, hearing something disparaging from each in reply.

Washed — Exactly the reverse; all the company overwhelming you with fulsome praises. Slight variations of the above are demanded in the cases of ladies.

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