Christmas crackers are not an American tradition. Maybe they’ve always been available here, but I only noticed them in stores about ten years ago. A few years back I thought of buying some for the holiday table, but then I got the bright idea to take an already busy time of year and add something else to the mix. I realize they’re just meant to be a little bit of fun, but… When you’re like me, you can’t help it–you see something nifty and you start to wonder how it was made, and that inevitably leads to wanting to make it yourself, and while you’re at it, change this and tweak that, etc.
We’re now in our fourth year of a Christmas cracker tradition. My best friend Shani and her daughter Isabel sleep over, and in addition to the movies and the hot chocolate and the nail painting, we make a big stack of Christmas crackers.
What I like best about homemade crackers is I can put a special little something in there specific to the recipient. My favorite to date was the McLovin’ drivers license for my brother George. It’s his favorite bookmark.
If you live in the U.S., keep in mind that cracker snaps–the strips of cardboard that pop when you pull the cracker apart–aren’t readily available at your local hobby store. I get mine on ebay from retailers in the UK or Australia. They’re cheap, but they take a while to get here. I also found these guys in the U.S., though I haven’t used them: http://www.christmas-crackers-usa.com/cracker-components.htm.
To make crackers you’ll need:
Cardboard rolls–Depending on how you feel about something going from the bathroom to the dinner table… you can use the cardboard cores of toilet roll. Or you can use paper towel cores, cut down to size with a serrated knife. My personal favorite, when I get a little crazy with the contents, is to use the lightweight cardboard spiral inside a lot of gift wrap. It allows you to make the rolls much wider by taping them to the desired width.
Sweets–They should be individually wrapped. I like to pick up a few bags of the interesting candies found in Japantown’s groceries–green tea chocolates, soda flavored fizzy hard candies, hamburger gummies. Pretty wrapped chocolates like Lindst’s Lindor truffles or Godiva’s holiday assortment are nice. Cost Plus/WorldMarket has a great selection of vintage candies, perfect for giving people a nice nostalgic trip.
Toys–Anything that makes me laugh when I see it. Magnets with oddball jokes, McLovin drivers licenses… And if they’re sort of useful, that’s even better. I generally look for items related to the interests of the people in my family.
Jokes, Riddles, Fortunes–One year I put some old fortune cookie fortunes in there. Quotes, poems, predictions, printed or written out on pretty slips of paper.
Double-sided tape (optional)
The one thing we don’t do–hats. The traditional paper crown people wear throughout the meal has fallen by the wayside.
Keep in mind the crackers are traditionally ripped open at the dinner table, so heavy items aren’t great especially if you’re sitting over fine china and good crystal.
If you’re making crackers with contents specific to the recipients, remember to mark them in some way as you go. I write the name of the person on the inside of one end.
To make the crackers:
Cut a piece of wrapping paper with enough length to wrap around the tube about one and a half times, and enough width to extend past the ends of the cracker snaps by about 2 inches on each side. Tape the paper to the cardboard tube.
Add ribbon to the one end. Trim the paper to the length of the cracker snap.
Drop the treats and sweets and toys and doodads into the cracker. You might need to use something slim like a pencil to manipulate everything into place.