One of the best Christmas traditions our family ever instigated came straight from the mind of my son, Bill. When he was in seventh grade, Bill read somewhere about the British tradition of serving Christmas crackers at Christmas dinner.
Christmas crackers are small tubes wrapped in festive paper, and each cracker contains a small gift along with an occasional joke or riddle. When you pull on the ends of the wrapping, you hear a loud bang, and the gift comes out of the tube.
Bill thought Christmas crackers sounded like a lot of fun, but after a search online revealed the high cost of a few genuine crackers, he decided to make his own.
Here is how he created his crackers:
- Bill made a shopping trip to the local Dollar Store, where he chose five or six gifts for every family member. These gifts included small tools, funky pens or erasers, bracelets, a compass that snaps onto a backpack, fishing lures and gear, nail polish, Snoopy figurines, a small rubber chicken key chain and a spatula.
- He also invested in tissue paper with festive colors and designs, ribbon (the thin kind you can curl with a scissors’ blade) and Christmas stickers.
- Because of their size and shape, Bill collected discarded toilet paper and paper towel cardboard centers. These became the circular tubes that held the gift. In at least one case (the spatula), he had to use part of a gift wrap tube to ensure that the item would be covered.
- Bill slipped each gift into an appropriately sized tube. Then he cut a piece of tissue paper large enough to cover the tube twice over, with about two inches of tissue paper extending off from either end. Once he rolled the tissue paper onto the tube, Bill used a small piece of tape to attach the paper so it wouldn’t unroll. He then tied shut both ends of the tissue paper hanging over the edges of the tube, using curled ribbon to make a nice package.
- Although traditional Christmas crackers are impersonal and can be opened by anyone, Bill wanted to make sure certain people got the right cracker. After all, his dad wouldn’t really appreciate nail polish or necklaces. Bill used sticker gift tags to indicate to whom the cracker belonged. He did some additional decorating with small Christmas stickers.
On Christmas Eve when the presents get piled under the tree, Bill piles his Christmas crackers on the dining room table. As we eat our Christmas morning meal, we open our crackers. These little gifts are often silly or fun and get the holiday off to a great start. They don’t make the traditional cracker noise, so we all shout “BANG” as we tear the end of the cracker.
You might be tempted to use pulling fireworks in your Christmas crackers in order to make a proper “bang.” Although these small sticks of cardboard and gunpowder have a nice string running through them and seem perfect for your cracker, DO NOT USE THEM.
The Melvin Scientific Test Lab (also known as the area outside on the back porch) decided to experiment with pulling fireworks to see if they would work. Our victim was the rubber chicken key ring. We placed the chicken in a cardboard tube along with a pulling firework, and wrapped up the whole package in tissue paper and ribbons with the string of the pulling firework dangling out the ends of the cracker. When we pulled the two ends of the pulling firework, the first thing we noticed was a tremendous bang. Then we checked out the rubber chicken.
We observed three results with our pulling firework test:
- Everything inside the cracker ends up smelling like burnt gunpowder.
- A small part of the tissue paper was smoldering. If thrown away immediately, we could have burned the house down.
- You can singe the gift inside the cracker. That poor rubber chicken had its bottom blackened. Good thing it’s a resilient little bird, or it may not have survived.
The Melvin Test Lab concluded that the typical pulling fireworks you buy around July 4th are too powerful, and definitely NOT RECOMMENDED. Shouting “BANG,” on the other hand, is a lot of fun, especially for kids, and warms up even the most reserved group of people.
Anything that can fit into a reasonably sized cardboard tube is fair game for these homemade crackers. Look in Dollar Stores, rummage sales and catalogs for small gifts. If you are filling crackers for younger people, look at funny pencils and pens, Matchbox cars, a collection of neat stickers, or anything else a youngster might enjoy.
The gifts don’t have to be expensive at all. We will say, though, that Bill thought a person could hide a set of keys for a new car inside of a Christmas cracker. Since he already owns a car, we really didn’t take his suggestion seriously.
One of the most popular Christmas cracker gifts Bill came up with was the rubber chicken key chain. It got a big laugh, and my husband still has it hanging in his office. If you have the time and energy, you can add a riddle or joke written on a piece of paper to each cracker, making it even more traditional.
So, the next time you have a Christmas party for your family, coworkers, scrapbooking friends or quilting circle, try homemade Christmas crackers. They are easy to make, fun to fill with small gifts, and a great way for the whole party to enjoy the holiday.