Holidays at the Antarctic Hotel

The mariners stranded in the icy wastes of Antarctica, where, as an 1850 edition of Household Words reports, “crashing mountains of ice, heaped up together, have made a chaos round their ships”; the mariners icily bearded, enjoying no company besides animals and birds white as though “they too were born of the desolate snow and frost” – how did they observe the year-end holidays? With merriment and good cheer, as it turns out.

The 1841 South Pole expedition was the very picture of high spirits on the high seas. The crew celebrated Christmas in grand English style, unfriendly environs notwithstanding. Such animal life as existed there paid no heed to them. Seals basked sleepily on floating chunks of ice. The black curve of a whale’s back peeked through a fissure and disappeared again. Two ships, the “Terror” and the “Erebus,” occupied a small opening in ice pack seven hundred miles wide. Ice covered the decks; a dense, gray fog, the ships. Except for flocks of shrieking terns that sometimes passed by, all was still and silent.

Continue reading

Thanksgiving Games to Cure Turkey-Induced Torpor

Guests lounge in armchairs and on the sofa, refusing to stir, perhaps even refusing to speak. If they do speak, their conversations are punctuated by hiccups, burps and farts so frequent as to constitute a fugue of digestive functions. They are all equally afflicted in this manner, regardless of age or species: children bulge with ill-advised fourth helpings of pie; the family spaniel, heavy with table scraps, wobbles to her favorite corner.

Continue reading

Christmas Punch

The December 26, 1874 issue of Punch offered its holiday-weary readers a list of “Christmas Hampers” (written by “a Growler”), among which were found the following seasonal drawbacks:

The Christmas Snow and Rain in the streets

The Christmas Coals

The Christmas Rates and Taxes

The Christmas Country Cousins

The Christmas Nightmare after

The Christmas Family Quarrels, Buried Friendships, and Mournful Memories

A long list of Christmas-induced migraines, indeed. Toward the bottom of the list appears, however, a hamper apt literally to give the merry maker a splitting headache: “The Christmas Champagne of economic dinner-givers.”

Much better to serve a spicy punch, like this one from Mrs. Norton’s Cook-Book (1917), if one seeks to be both economical and hospitable.

Christmas Punch

Juice of six oranges, six lemons, two grapefruit, one grated pineapple, two cups of sugar melted in one cup of hot water then cooled, one cup of strong Ceylon tea; when all is chilled add four quarts of water turned over a block of ice in the punch bowl. Drain a small bottle of maraschino cherries, and float them on top with a few candied mint leaves.