Victorian Christmas at the Brown House Inn

by Sandra Foyt on December 2, 2010

in Arts and Culture

When you attend a Victorian Christmas Party at the Brown House Inn, it’s as if time stopped during Queen Victoria’s reign.

Some of my favorite memories as a Girl Scout leader were our visits to the Brown House in Amsterdam, NY. I’m not sure what I liked more: the fancy foods, playing dress up, or watching the girls practicing their best manners. We returned in all seasons, but I do believe that the best time to visit the Brown House is when it’s dressed up for the holidays. Here is an account from our Victorian Christmas Tea in the winter of 2008.


I went under false pretenses, having been assured that Victorian attire is universally flattering.  If so, I must be the only exception. Everyone else on our Girl Scout outing at the Brown House looked gorgeous.

The girls, moms, and I were there to experience a Victorian Christmas Party, and we weren’t disappointed.

Our hostess spun a story of the origins of the Christmas tradition in the formal parlor, which while not exactly accurate, was certainly entertaining as it drew the girls into a drama about Queen Victoria’s children.  After the introduction, we were ready to change into the oh-so-flattering period dresses and begin our celebration.

Coal and Sugar – A Victorian Singing Game

Sitting in a circle, we took turns in the naughty circle, with eyes closed, as the rest passed pieces of black ribbon (coal) or white lace (sugar) while singing Deck The Halls.  When the hostess stopped the singing, the girl in the naughty circle ventured three guesses as to who held the sugar in her fists.  Unless they discovered who held the sugar, the girl was destined to stay in the naughty circle.

St. Nicholas Magic Bag

brown_house7Told that this was a boarding school tradition, we made St. Nicholas Bags, tissue covered candy that purported to describe the recipient.  Supposedly, wealthy young Victorian ladies spent the holidays at boarding school where they rarely had any candy.

They were grateful for any sweets – even a sugar cube, lemon drop, or black licorice – regardless of whether it indicated sweetness, crankiness, or naughtiness.

Victorian Tea

After the games and crafts, we were ready for the true highlight of the celebration – a formal tea with finger sandwiches, and a Christmas Cake with a Pauper’s Piece coin hidden inside.   The food was delicious, but what we really liked was the playacting that went with it.

We each had our roles: hostess, honored guests, and maids.  In our roles, some of us poured the tea and gossiped, while the maids stood at our beck and call.  They worked hard to earn their Christmas bonuses, gold coins (chocolates.)

One of the maids was also the lucky girl who found the penny in her slice of cake and was rewarded with a Cracker filled with confetti, a tissue crown, and riddle inside.

I doubt that many Victorians celebrated the Christmas holiday in quite this way, but we enjoyed the fantasy, the dress-up play, and the delicious meal.  Even in my unflattering dress, I enjoyed playing pretend as much as the girls.

Go See It!

The Brown House
6256 State Highway 30
Amsterdam, NY 12010
Contact: Leslie Wright at (518) 817-3912 or by email at

| Sandra Foyt is a storyteller, photographer, and road trip junkie. A veteran of six cross-country road trips, she drove Route 66, the Lincoln Highway, the fossil freeway, the extraterrestrial highway, and even “the loneliest road in America.” Find her on, an award-winning destination guide to extraordinary travel in and from Northeast USA, on her portfolio site at, and in freelance gigs on Family Travel 411, Minitime, Huffington Post, and Matador Network. Email:, Twitter @SandraFoyt.

Lissa December 2, 2010 at 9:23 pm

They all look adorable!

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