Reindeer Games

CAROLING

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Rudolph's popular song had Santa's other reindeer excluding him from Monopoly.

In my opinion, the little red-nosed reindeer was not missing anything by not having the opportunity to draw the chance card in Monopoly. You know, that says you must pay for street repairs and so, bankrupts you.

A simple snowball fight would seem to be a more likely North Pole gaming event. Especially because the jolly elves are clearly supplying L.L. Bean and other catalogs with $12 plastic snowball makers that look remarkably like a cross between salad tongs and a large melon baller.

Then of course, three days on from Christmas there is the annual North Pole Jousting tournament.

The joust was born untold years ago when Dasher caught Blitzen, who had lapped up too much eggnog, nuzzling up to Dancer.

His comely reindeer's honor was at stake so Dasher challenged Blitzen to a joust.

Blitzen tried to apologize and Mrs. Claus had to intervene before Comet, Cupid, Donner and Vixen could take sides.

Mrs. Claus recognized that there was a need for the reindeer and elves to let off steam after working so fanatically.

Nowadays, eight of the burliest elves, usually the ones that cut down the trees to make wooden block sets, are chosen to ride Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen in the tournament.

Off go the elves' pointed belled boots and holiday tunics. On goes armor made completely out of last year's desiccated fruitcakes. Then, with giant candy canes for joust sticks, elves, seated on reindeer, thunder across the snowy arena.

Jack Frost, Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph, because his red nose is not insurable, even by Lloyd's of London, take turns announcing the event.

The prizes?

The winning elf gets the week before Christmas off to enjoy an all-expense-paid tropical vacation.

Of course, the winning reindeer becomes the head gets to take charge of the reindeer herd.

As the Northern Lights begin to blaze in the sky the reindeer retire to the barn to do whatever pampered reindeer who only have to work once a year do behind closed doors.

The elves retire inside Santa's castle to games of Hot Cockles Snapdragon and stolen kisses.

Hot Cockles:

One blindfolded elfin player holds his hands out palms up. When another player slaps his hands, the elf must guess who hit him. A correct guess means the striking elf moves to the center, and so on until every elf's palms are sore.

Snapdragon:

Players gather around a bowl of currants soaked in spirits. One elf drops a lighted match into the bowl thus setting the alcohol on fire.

Then the merry little elves challenge each other to grab a flaming currant out of the bowl, pop the tiny fruit in their mouth thus putting out the flame.

Stealing kisses under the mistletoe remains a popular sport for those elves who did not burn their mouths on the hot currants.

The evening's festivities always end, at least for those elves unsuccessful under the kissing bough, with the Yawning for Cheshire Cheese contest.

Which ever elf yawns the loudest and longest wins the great wheel of cheese ... and I might add, the winner is expected to serve the cheese up at the New Year's Eve potluck and belated belsnickel parade.

What in holly is a belsnickeler, I hear you ask.

Does not the very word suggest revelry?

Folk traditions of Germany give St. Nicholas a helper by the name of Knecht Ruprecht.

As the legend evolved, Knecht Ruprecht's identity sometimes merged with St. Nick. He carries a bell to warn of his approach, a whip or a stick to punish naughty children, and a sack full of treats for well-behaved children.

Knecht Ruprecht became known as Bullerklas in Austria and Black Peter in Holland.

Thus, in the eighteenth century, the Pennsylvania Dutch brought Pelz Nicholas to America which eventually slurred into bellschniggle or belsnickel.

Just one belsnickeler might be led away in a rubber wagon, so there must be at least a few celebrants -- preferably an abundance of belsnickelers.

In New York and Pennsylvania, groups of young men of German descent went around on Christmas Eve rather drunk, singing loudly and playing musical instruments.

Modern holiday parades probably stem from the belsnickel tradition.

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, flashes his nose in approval.

What Rudolph does not approve of is our litigious age where an ungentle reader might sue him for planting the idea that playing the centuries old game of Snapdragon would be fun and have implications of safety.

Like lit candles on a Christmas tree, Snapdragon is a treat from humanity's less-cautious past.

Rudolph also reminds me that I would not have had nearly so much fun writing this column if I had not picked up (for a whopping 10 cents! at a Payson yard sale in July) a marvelous book: "Encyclopedia of Christmas" by Tanya Gelevich.

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