Knuts Party, or Death of Christmas

A Knuts Party or Knut’s Dance is a tradition in Sweden (and apparently now in Hackney) on St Knut’s Day (13th January) which marks the end of Christmas and the festive season.

It is also known as “Dancing Out Christmas” or “Throw Out The Tree”.

We have at home long celebrated the end of the season with a Death of Christmas party, which evolved because almost everyone is away for actual Christmas, so we like to have a traditional lunch with turkey, ham, chestnuts and crackers and the whole thing after we get through with our family festivities, and everybody is feeling a bit flat.

This is our chance to meet up with all the people we really want to see, and have a full party situation, with none of the pressures which often arise at the actual Christmas time.

It’s a great excuse to keep the tree and decorations up for longer than most people do.

You have to be careful to buy things like turkeys and cranberries ahead of time because they are often suddenly not available after 25th December. You can just pop those ingredients into the freezer.

The 13th of January is ideal for this but as the entire point is to make this happen when people are back and around, you can tweak the date if it suits you. We are feeling fairly smug this year because we asked for LFT tests before people arrived and no Covid cases were logged after the party.

A bonus is if you can follow Victorian Christmas traditions, with a pudding that you can light on fire with charms or silver coins inside, silly party games and the wearing of paper crowns.

Party games are not played often enough after we get past the stage of being at children’s parties where parents organize things like Pass the Parcel or Musical Chairs.

We eagerly graduate instead to teenage parties where, apart from the occasional round of Spin The Bottle, simple fun is replaced by a lot of sitting around looking bored with occasional sexual experimentation and arguing about what music to play.

In my social circles the notorious Twister was much discussed by attention-seeking teens, but I never saw it actually played, and my attempts to get a party séance going were always shot down by some killjoy who claimed to have had a terrifying experience once and now couldn’t possibly allow one to take place in case we released the hordes of hell upon an unsuspecting world, which I found disappointing.

The Victorians were really the tops for parlour games. We all know how to play Hangman and Dumb Crambo is just another form of the still-popular Charades, but many other terrific party pastimes have fallen out of vogue.

Snapdragon

A very popular game whose origins are clouded by time is Snapdragon, where players would gather around a bowl where raisins soaked in brandy were set alight. The game was to snatch as many burning raisins from the bowl as possible. I mean, people hardly ever want to play Snapdragon any more, I’ve found. There is simply no accounting for taste.

This gives you an idea of how those long winter evenings were passed in the days before Netflix and gaming consoles became standard living room equipment.

Here are a few ancient and hilarious games you may wish to consider.

Romps:

Blind Man’s Buff is played in a spacious area, such as outdoors or in a large room, in which one player, designated as “It”, is blindfolded and gropes around attempting to touch the other players without being able to see them, while the other players scatter and try to avoid the person who is “it”, hiding in plain sight and sometimes teasing them to influence them to change direction.

When the “it” player catches someone, the caught player becomes “it” and the catcher flees from them.

“Buff”, by the way, is Old English for a blow or buffet. So it’s “Blind Man’s Hit”, kind of. Nothing to do with nudity, unless you’re at a very specific type of party.

A variation on this is Animals. All the players except the blind man station themselves in different parts of the room. The blind man then feels his way around until he touches someone. That player must at once give an imitation of the noise made by an animal of their choice, repeating it up to three times if requested. The blind man must guess the name of his animal prisoner, and if he does so, they change places.

For Squeak Piggy Squeak, all the players but one sit on chairs in a circle facing inward. The odd player is placed blindfolded in the middle of the ring, holding a cushion in front of them with both hands.

Squeak Piggy Squeak by Alice McMurrough

They must find a lap by feeling with the cushion, and then placing it on the lap, sit on it and say “Squeak Piggy, Squeak”. They may demand three squeaks to identify the piggy. If they are wrong, they must try again with another lap, but if they identify the piggy, they switch places.

Sea & Fishes – The company seat themselves in a circle of chairs, leaving out one player who represents Poseidon, the God of the Sea. The other players all take the names of fish (and state those names to Poseidon), and the God of Sea walks around calling the names of the fishes one by one.

pilar mehlis’s fish people

Be Serious – these can be played as after-dinner games around the table.

Each player on hearing their adopted name called, rises and follows the sea. When all have been called and are following, Poseidon begins to run about, crying “The Sea is troubled! The Sea is troubled!” and the fish all follow him until he suddenly sits down, whereby they all follow his example – the one who does not secure a chair becomes the God, and the game continues.

Throwing the Smile: Players sit in a circle. One of them smiles for a moment, then wipes his hand across his face to wipe off the smile, and pretends to throw it to another person of his choice, who has to catch the smile with his hand, put it on their face, then wipe the smile away to throw to somebody else. Everyone who is not “holding the smile” needs to stay stony-faced. Anyone who smiles or laughs out of turn is eliminated, and the last player to survive wins the game.

Any players who have been eliminated can laugh loudly in order to persuade others to laugh too, and therefore be eliminated.

Poor Pussy: Everyone sits in a circle. When all are seated, the person chosen to be Pussy has to go around the table, ideally on hands and knees, and adopt a begging posture to one of the circle. Pussy must look as pitiful as possible, and mew. The one appealed to must say “Poor Pussy” in as consoling a way as possible, but without smiling. This exchange is repeated three times, and if Pussy cannot get a smile, they must appeal to somebody else. As soon as they can coax a smile from somebody, they exchange places, and the game ends when the last person has played Pussy.

Ha Ha Ha:

Players sit in a circle. The first player begins the game by saying “Ha”. The next in line must say “Ha ha”, and the next “Ha ha ha”. This continues around the table until somebody smiles or laughs, when they are eliminated. The last player to exhibit humour wins.

Card Games

It is misleading that I have created a heading here, because there is clearly only one valid card game in existence, which is Grimace Snap, for 3-6 players.

As in classic Snap, all the cards are shuffled and dealt face down to each player. They players may hold their cards, but face down, without looking at them. Starting from dealers left, each player in turn takes the top card from their hand and lays it face up in front of them. This play continues until two of the exposed cards coincide and match up. When this happens, the owners of the matching cards have the chance of shouting “Snap!” and the first to do so gathers up all the cards played by both.

Other players do not have the right to shout, they must wait until they play a matching card of their own. Whoever ends up with all the cards wins.

In Grimace Snap, instead of shouting “Snap!” each player must try to make the other one laugh by pulling a face. The first one to laugh loses their cards.

Animal Grab is another fun variant, whereby instead of “Snap!” each player is assigned an animal before playing, and when they match cards – they have to make the noise of the other players animal. The one who gives the correct noise first wins the hand.

If you like to introduce the element of paying forfeits into your game-playing, the Victorians had some totally peculiar ones. There was Playing the Parrot, where the victim had to go to everyone in the room and ask “What would you have me say?” and then repeat the word or phrase they suggest in a parrot voice.

There was also The Sulks, where the “victim” is ordered to visibly sulk. They do this after whispering into the ear of the Forfeit Master the name of the one there they would like to kiss. The Forfeit Master then presents the members of the opposite sex to them one by one, making sure the one of their choice is at the back of the queue. As they are presented, the victim turns away from each one with a sulky, pouting face until her choice arrives and this one she allows to kiss her.

Most of the forfeits seemed to include kissing, actually, like the To Fish For A Kiss forfeit. A grape or similar small fruit is tied to a thread, and suspended from a pen or pencil to resemble a fishing rod.

Somebody approaches the victim and they are compelled to take the fruit in their mouth. They are then led around the room, with the leader declaring “What a fine fish I have hooked!” They then detach the rod, and taking the line into their own mouth until their lips meet (like in the Lady & The Tramp meatball scene), whereby they kiss.

We made hazelnut oldfashioned style whisky cocktails for the party this year, which we called:

Knuts Bangers:

  • 1 3/4 ounces bourbon
  • 1/2 ounce hazelnut liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce plain simple syrup
  • dash of vanilla extract

Shake the ingredients together in a chilled shaker and serve with a glace cherry and a slice of orange peel.

Eager and never weary we pursued

Our home amusements by the warm peat-fire

At evening; when with pencil and with slate,

In square divisions parcell’d out, and all

With crosses and with cyphers scribbled o’er,

We schemed and puzzled, head opposed to head

In strife too humble to be named in Verse.

Or round the naked table, snow-white deal,

Cherry or maple, sate in close array,

And to the combat, Loo or Whist, led on.

  • William Wordsworth ‘The Prelude’

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