Here's How Kids Enjoyed Snow Days 100 Years Ago

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Getty Images

Never take free time for granted. In the 1910s, when child labor was common, free time was a luxury many kids couldn’t afford. Yet, then as now, some much-needed recreation might be had on the occasional snow day. To lucky youngsters, several entertainment options were available, including these popular pastimes.

1. BREAKING OUT THE FLEXIBLE FLYERS

During the 1910s, these sleds became a bona-fide national craze: 2000 were sold daily in December 1915 alone. Named after some well-placed hinges which enabled easier steering, wooden Flexible Flyers remained iconic for decades and are still produced today, despite steep competition from plastic rivals.

2. BOILING SOME OLD-FASHIONED HOT COCOA

Before the age of microwaves and Swiss Miss powders, making warm chocolatey beverages was a lot more time-consuming. Standard recipes often involved boiling cocoa shells or cracked cocoa beans: a process which usually took over an hour.

3. PLAYING ICE BARREL BALL

Imagine if hockey and basketball had an eccentric, nonviolent lovechild. Matches took place on outdoor ice rinks with five players on each team. Both sides had a barrel into which their opponents would try to throw the ball while skating. Naturally, these slippery conditions would have made dribbling impossible, so carrying was permitted. Should an adversary tag the ball-carrier, the rules dictated that he throw it immediately. Tackling, shoving, and other forms of fighting would be strictly penalized.

4. PLAYING ROOK

During the early 1900s, certain religious groups were not OK with card games. In order to win over those who found them immoral, Parker Brothers introduced “Rook” decks in 1906, which lacked “face” cards (kings, queens, etc.) and, hence, did not immediately lend themselves to gambling. Their new game soon caught on and became a wholesome family staple, with advertisers billing it as “The Delight of Winter Evenings."

5. "LION"-HUNTING

This strategic chase involved a tracking party and their lion impersonator, who’d flee into some nearby trees, leaving trails of corn en route. As with “Siberian Manhunt,” both the hunters and the hunted then threw snowballs in an effort to eliminate each other. There was also a warm-weather version, played with tennis balls.

6. HEADING INDOORS FOR SOME "DOUBLE-DOMINO"

Wooden boards, some drilling equipment, and a rubber ball were all this leisurely sport required. Simply carve a few “domino-style” holes into your planks, prop them up, stand back, try bouncing your ball off the floor and through one of those freshly-cut openings, and voila! Instant amusement.

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

What Are Sugar Plums?

Marten Bjork, Unsplash
Marten Bjork, Unsplash

Thanks to The Nutcracker and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," sugar plums are a symbol of the holidays. But what are sugar plums, exactly? Like figgy pudding and yuletide, the phrase has become something people say (or sing) at Christmastime without knowing the original meaning. Before it was the subject of fairy dances and storybook dreams, a sugar plum was either a fruitless candy or a not-so-sweet euphemism.

According to The Atlantic, the sugar plums English-speakers ate from the 17th to the 19th century contained mostly sugar and no plums. They were made by pouring liquid sugar over a seed (usually a cardamom or caraway seed) or almond, allowing it to harden, and repeating the process. This candy-making technique was called panning, and it created layers of hard sugar shells. The final product was roughly the size and shape of a plum, which is how it came to be associated with the real fruit.

Before the days of candy factories, these confections could take several days to make. Their labor-intensive production made them a luxury good reserved for special occasions. This may explain how sugar plums got linked to the holidays, and why they were special enough to dance through children's heads on Christmas Eve.

The indulgent treat also became a synonym for anything desirable. This second meaning had taken on darker connotations by the 17th century. A 1608 definition from the Oxford English Dictionary describes a sugar plum as “something very pleasing or agreeable, esp. when given as a sop or bribe.” Having a "mouthful of sugar plums" wasn't necessarily a good thing, either. It meant you said sweet words that may have been insincere.

As true sugar plums have fallen out of fashion, demand for Christmas candy resembling the actual fruit has risen. You can now buy fancy candied plums and plum-flavored gummy candies for the holidays, but if you want something closer to the classic sugar plum, a Jordan almond is the more authentic choice.