Crackers are part of the ritual of Christmas dinner.

Made of a cardboard tube, wrapped around with decorated foil paper, with the cracker strip running through the middle.

One is laid out for each person at the table. Before the meal begins, you hold your cracker out to the person next to you, each holding one end, and pull hard. Once the cordite has faded away, and the squealing has stopped, the person who retains the bigger portion (like pulling a wishbone) wins the prizes inside:

  • a paper hat, which must be worn unless you wish to be called a spoilsport
  • a joke on a small slip of paper (the cheesier the better)
  • a novelty gift of some sort. In cheap crackers these can be little plastic rings, small toys like tiddlywinks. In flashy crackers you might end up with a pair of silver cufflinks or some other expensive frippery.

The festive season brings many traditions, and Christmas crackers are one that most us are familiar with. Generally stocked with a silly hat, cheap toy and really bad jokes and normally packed by notoriously underpaid workers, these mini gift packs are bought with little thought. They produce merriment and groans in equal measures around the table as the different traditions are observed with the pulling of the crackers. In my family the tradition is that my mother makes the crackers. It is such a tradition that when I spent my first Christmas away from my family, my mother posted two of her bulging crackers from half way across the world to keep up with the family tradition. So I shall present you with the recipe for the ultimate Christmas crackers.

The exterior

It takes a little searching but it is possible to find “make your own” cracker packs. They contain the cardboard outsides, a paper hat, the cracker and either jokes or profound sayings. Otherwise the outsides can be made with toilet rolls and crepe paper or if you are really creative light cardboard cut in the correct shape. To get the shape, buy some cheap crackers and dissect them, but remember the materials used must be easily torn apart.

The vital ingredients

  • The crackers (the noisy bit) can be bought from craft shops.
  • For hats, crack out the crepe paper or left-over Christmas paper, and let your imagination go wild.
  • For jokes, children’s joke books are a good source, but you can always add in more raunchy ones or for a classier feel you can try quotes of the famous to inspire.

Added extras

Now onto the fun bit. This is just a list of things my mother has put into our family crackers over the years. She generally finds items whilst out and about, and she tends not worry about the cost. The general requirements are small and entertaining. Items that require building and/or move have over the years produced the most merriment.

  • Small clockwork toys (the metal chickens one year created lots of fun).
  • Lego (very good keeping small and big boys entertained).
  • Miniature toy cars.
  • Kinder surprise or Yowies (the Australian Cadburys equivalent of Kinder Surprise).
  • Christmas ornaments.
  • Small dolls.
  • Candy canes.
  • Chocolate or sweets.
  • Novelty items like dice with activities on the faces.
  • Christmas tree and Santa badges with flashing eyes.
  • For added mess and fun glitter or sequins.

Additional serving suggestions

If you wish you could theme your crackers:

Adult: condoms, wind-up peckers.
E2: Nodeshell challenges, jessicapierce’s knitted skulls, postcards from noders.
Computer lovers: Very small computer parts such as USB or SD memory, a small linux penguin or Cthulhu plushie.
Goth: plastic spiders, nail polish, The Nightmare Before Christmas characters.
Little girl: dolls, fairies, glitter.
Little boys: cars, lego, mini monsters.
Warm and Fuzzy: there are plenty of Charities that have Christmas type fundraisers, purchase some good cheer and pass it around.
Personalised: a cracker filled with items for the received, inscribe their name on the outside.
Muscial: each cracker contains a whistle with a different note, and a page of music with the notes to different tunes listed, and a baton. The baton holder points at the others in turn, encouraging them to play their part in playing the tune. With thanks to spiregrain.
The variations are endless.

Added bonuses

Part of the tradition surrounding my families ultimate crackers is that they are used a tool in deciding who opens the first presents, Joyce has used the following methods. The longest piece of string, the toy car with the highest number on the side, the train (every one else had carriages) and the red hat.

My mother takes great pride and joy in making the family crackers, the lastest attempts had a ribbon around the middle of them as they were so full. The huge amount of fun that they produce around the table at Christmas means all the hard work she has done pays off. I hope this inspires you to add the ultimate Christmas cracker to your family’s Christmas table.

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