Snapdragon – How to Play the Old Christmas Parlor Game

Snapdragon – How to Play the Old Christmas Parlor Game


Romancing The Past: Christmas Snap-dragon

Snapdragon was a holiday parlor game popular in England from about the 16th century. It’s typically played at gatherings on Christmas Eve by placing heated brandy in a wide, shallow dish with raisins. The lights are turned off and the brandy is set alight. The participants then try to snatch raisins from the fire and eat the lit fruit.

There is even a poem recorded in Robert Chambers’ Book of days (1879) you are supposed to recite while playing:

Take care you don’t take too much,
Be not greedy in your clutch,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!

With his blue and lapping tongue
Many of you will be stung,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!

For he snaps at all that comes
Snatching at his feast of plums,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!

But Old Christmas makes him come,
Though he looks so fee! fa! fum!
Snip! Snap! Dragon!

Don’t ‘ee fear him but be bold –
Out he goes his flames are cold,
Snip! Snap! Dragon!

You can hear the children playing and reciting this poem in the Halloween Party episode (S12 E2) of Poirot: (If that video is broken, you can see it on Internet Archive. Skip along to about 7:30)

Update: If you want to try other Victorian parlor games – try this list:

Doing it yourself

Atlas Obscura attempted to re-create the experience. I used this as my own guide to try this myself. I found it mostly spot-on. Here was my setup:


  • Raisins: Buy good quality ones that aren’t squished. The bigger/beefier they are, the easier they are to grab. The sweeter they are gives them a great taste when mixed with brandy.
  • Brandy (or rum): 50% (100 proof) smooth, sweet brandy/rum. I found Domaine Tariquet 8 year Bas-Armagnac (cask strength) worked really well. It tasted delicious and burned really well. You’ll probably want to buy a 750ml bottle as you’ll use about half of it per play.
  • Salt – throwing in pinches of salt adds sparking effects that really look cool
  • [Advanced gameplay] Almonds: While they do work, I found they did conduct heat more and upped the difficulty because some items were squishy and others hard when grabbing them from the flames.


  1. Get a large, flat, shallow dish – The dish needs to handle being set on fire and getting very hot. Corelle plates seemed to work well. The dish is going to get very hot so you might also want to put a hot pad under the dish so that it doesn’t ruin the table surface you place it on.
  2. Cookie sheet and CLEAR play area – I found that flaming brandy does indeed splash or drip onto the table as you snatched raisins out. Having the dish in a tray keeps from damaging your play surface.
    You are literally playing with fire – so take all precautions. Make sure your table top and whole area is 100% clear of flammables. Someone might freak and fling a flaming raisin across the table/room. It might be worthwhile to have a damp blanket around to smother flames and baking soda. Remember that water will spread an alcohol fire.
  3. Pour the raisins (and almonds) on the plate – Make sure the raisins are mostly unstuck and can be grabbed individually or in a bunch of no more than 2-3.
  4. Pour ½ to ¾ cup of brandy onto the dish with the raisins. The liquid should not cover the raisins completely.
  5. Warm ¼ cup of brandy in a pan until it’s good and hot – but not boiling. Pour it on top the raisins. Heating part of the brandy supposedly volatilizes the alcohol, increases the amount of vapor, and makes it easier to set alight).
  6. Take a nice long lighter and light it up!
  7. Toss in pinches of salt to add sparks and light!

Try number one

In hindsight, I probably used too much brandy. The raisins were almost all completely below the surface of the brandy. The flames were, to be honest, way too high and too hot to do anything with. I tried grabbing a few fruits, but ended up splashing lots of flaming blue liquid around and getting lots of heat since I had to really dive into the flaming liquid.

I was also getting LOTS of yellow flame. Yellow flame is the hottest kind of flame and will burn you.

Try, try again

According to the Atlas Obscura article, you’re shooting for blue flames which are the result of chemiluminescence, not thermal radiation of yellow flames. As the initial yellow flames burned down, the raisins started poking through the surface of the brandy – making them easier to grab. The flame also started dancing back and forth around the dish – making it EXTREMELY fun to try and time a grab when no flames were in a particular area. It also meant the raisins were warm and brandy filled. Delicious!

This was the absolute most fun time to play. However, it was also towards the last few minutes before the flames died out. Over all, from first lighting to end was only a few minutes – so when you light it up – make sure everyone is ready to play right away!

Here’s what it looked like and me grabbing a few raisins.


I agreed with the other articles – this was absolutely a fun game and definitely worth a shot among adults that don’t mind a little danger and adventure. We’re probably too far along in protective parenting to make this a kids game, but teens might give it a go.

The Atlas Obscura article was really good. However, I would add some tips:

  1. Don’t add almonds your first go. Adding almonds makes things harder for two reasons: there are some hard and some squishy items in the dish and makes judging your snatch from the flames harder. Secondly, the almonds do conduct more heat and can be a hotter grab than raisins towards the end of the game. Finally, they can get a burned coating which makes them not as tasty as boozy raisins.
  2. Ensure the tops of the raisins are above the surface of the brandy. Makes them easy to spot and grab because you’re not dipping so deeply into the flaming liquid
  3. 40-50% alcohol Brandy. 50%/100 proof liquid really burned hot at first, but produced a really nice, long game. I wouldn’t go higher than that.
  4. Sweet brandy – Sweeter/smoother brandy made the soaked raisins taste fantastic. Splurging for a sweeter, high quality smooth brandy really paid off.


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