From Robert Chambers’ Book of Days
Meta: a dragon playing Snap-Dragon
I grew up in the ’60s, when being hip was an ineffable, deliciously rare characteristic. Both my parents were Beats in their day, listening to Billie Holiday and yes, smoking the occasional joint. One became a lawyer, the other a teacher. As teenagers, my two brothers and I would probably have been categorized as ‘hippies’, but back then, no one reveled in labeling themselves. Every Christmas Eve, our family — along with the bravest of our friends — gathered round the dining room table, having enjoyed a traditional feast and plenty of wine. We all held our breath as my mother would ceremoniously emerge from the kitchen brandishing… the Snap-Dragon bowl! This shallow, enameled dish was brim-full with brandy and floating raisins. The lights were dimmed, and that year’s ‘anointed one’ produced a Bic lighter, setting the bowl aflame! Playing Snap-Dragon was a contest of who could pull the most raisins out of the flaming bowl... with bare fingers! Any raisin plucked from the bowl could only go directly from flame to fingers to mouth. No one was ever burned, and nothing but the bowl was ever set on fire. But Snap-Dragon was such a crowd-pleaser, we reprised it year after year. Not to encourage playing with fire, but I wonder how many of today’s “hipsters” are industrious or courageous enough to take on this holiday tradition. I wouldn’t say it’s for the piña colada-sipping crowd.
— TH, Point Loma
I have so many questions, not the least of which being: what did “the bravest” of your friends say the first time you asked them, “Hey, you guys wanna some play Snap-Dragon?” and then explained the actual game to them? I’m shrewd enough to ask these kinds of questions, purely rhetorically, because I know that any actual answers would only detract from the mystery. In any event, I love stories like this that remind us of the amazingly dangerous ways we humans have invented to amuse ourselves over time. When you look back at the dizzying array of toxic kiddie toys, cars without seatbelts, and tobacco companies directly targeting expectant mothers; a little game of “snatch the flaming raisins from the burning brandy” sounds downright wholesome by comparison.
I dare say the modern hipster set could embrace the charms of Snap-Dragon as a Christmastime celebration. If I know anything about hipsters, they’ll take the idea and run wild with it. Raisins are good, so a potpourri of rare and exotic dried fruits is better, right? And if dried fruits are better, then dried fruits that have been steeped in various alcohols for a week in advance so they get you drunk as well as amuse you are best, right? Of course, at some point, getting clever turns into “trying too hard,” and maybe we’re all better off sticking with the classic edition of raisins and brandy. If I might make one suggestion for those inclined to adopt this tradition as their own — heat the brandy before putting it in the bowl, as room temperature booze does not ignite easily. I’ll save you all the embarrassing details of how exactly I know this, but let’s say a surprisingly large number of flabbergasted women agree that accidentally inviting me to a bachelorette party was not a good idea, and we’ll leave it at that.