December is full of amazing traditions and festivities, but many wonderful holiday customs have faded into near-obscurity. These fifteen examples deserve a comeback.
1. Decorate With Rose Petals
Ease up on the poinsettias this year and do as the Colonial Virginians did—spruce up your home with fragrant roses and lavender during the holiday season. It gives a nice floral alternative to the amazing holiday aromas of evergreen and gingerbread.
2. Have a Child Run The Party
Role-reversal was a key component in the ancient Roman holiday called “Saturnalia.” Families would elect somebody of relatively low status—usually a child—as their “princeps” (or “leader”), who’d preside over the festivities. This may be the year that your pre-teen is ready to be promoted to party planner.
3. Humble Pie
Also known as ‘umble pie, this hearty dish became a Christmas staple during the 1600s. A deer’s “humbles”—i.e., its heart, liver, brains, and similarly neglected organs—were the entrée’s namesake ingredients. You may want to move this one lower on your holiday to-do list than the rose petals.
4. White Tie New Year’s Eve Parties
As they greeted each approaching New Year, well-to-do Gilded Age households commonly threw swanky get-togethers. For the gentlemen, white ties and waistcoats were deemed standard attire, while ladies sported corseted evening gowns.
5. Hot Cockles
Flirtation was often a fun side effect of this pre-Victorian holiday game. The rules are straightforward: One blindfolded player kneels and rests his or her head in somebody’s lap. Another participant then lightly smacks the kneeler’s backside, and the blindfolded party would have to guess who did it.
6. Ceramic Tipping Boxes
For centuries, Brits would present their servants and apprentices with ceramic boxes that contained an annual holiday bonus on the day after Christmas. While Boxing Day remains on the calendar in many countries, the boxes themselves are due for a comeback.
7. Alphabetical Feasts
The Brumalia was a Greco-Roman festival that stretched from November 24 to December 17, and each of the 24 days was assigned a specific Greek letter. A celebrant would honor his or her friends with individual banquets hosted on the days that matched the first letters of their names. The English alphabet would require a couple of extra days, but we’re sure your friend Xavier wouldn’t mind being the center of attention for a day.
8. Redding the House
Hogmanay—Scotland’s traditional New Year’s festival—historically involved cleaning (or “redding”) houses before midnight fell on December 31. Clearing out your fireplace held particular significance because the reading of its ashes (much like reading tea leaves) could tell you what to expect from the coming year.
9. Presents with Poems
Here’s another neat Saturnalia practice: When giving gifts to friends and loved ones in observance of this holiday, some Romans customarily included slips of paper upon which seasonal poems were written. Fun poetry makes modern “To/From” tags seem boring by comparison.
10. Skipping Laundry Day
During the 19th century, the British considered it bad luck to do laundry on New Year’s Day. Many believed doing so could cause a death (or “washing-out”) in the family, while others were probably just happy to give the clothesline a day off.
11. Shoe the Mare
After Christmas dinner, Elizabethans enjoyed this athletic game, which featured one barefooted family member running about like an unruly steed. Everyone else tried to catch and “shoe” (albeit with human footgear) the runner.
12. 12 Days of Mince Pies
For good luck, Medieval Europeans would enjoy a hearty minced meat pie, spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, on each of the 12 days of Christmas (December 25-January 6). Yum!
13. Yule Mumming
Why should Halloween get all the scares? On Christmas Eve, Scandinavian youngsters used to grab their spookiest masks and frighten unsuspecting neighbors while acting like ghosts. This would certainly spice up lackluster office parties.
14. Cake Tossing
Chucking a perfectly good cake against a door sounds like an awful waste of delicious sweets, but heads-of-households in the 1890s felt that doing so would bring a year without hunger.
“Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green…” Have you ever sung this carol and found yourself wondering what the heck “wassailing” is? Come Christmastime in the 1600s, Englishmen would prepare huge bowls of a hot, cider-based drink and walk from door-to-door offering cupfuls (sometimes in exchange for cash).