How to play a fiery Victorian Christmas game and not get burned

Snapdragon is a game from the 18th and 19th centuries that involves sticking your hand in a bowl of flaming brandy to snatch a raisin. While it sounds painful and dangerous, the parlor game was a Christmas tradition, and a chance to show off your bravery. The staff at Atlas Obscura got together on Zoom to find out what the draw was, by playing snapdragon themselves.

True, all of us hesitated before putting our hands into the fire. As the writer of this piece, I took it upon myself to snatch out the first almond. "It's fine, no pain!" I shouted, showing off the burning nut before popping it in my mouth.

Soon, we were all grabbing at the raisins and almonds fearlessly. While brief bursts of heat did make us occasionally snatch our hands away, the sting faded quickly, and no one got burned. Some early accounts of snapdragon recommended throwing salt on the flames, without any explanation of what it would do. As it happens, pinches of salt tossed on the fire makes the flames pop and flare brilliant gold, for just a second.

While we started the game nervous about dipping our hands into literal fire, it soon became clear that snapdragon is really, really fun. So why does no one play it anymore?

A U.S. Forest Service fire scientist explains why the game works, and we get a recipe for proper snapdragon fire at Atlas Obscura.