A favorite Christmas ritual of my family is the English tradition of holiday poppers, also called “Christmas crackers.” These simple place-setting adornments make mealtimes more festive and add an element of extra conviviality and childlike playfulness to the table. Christmas crackers are inexpensive to buy, but, as my mother and I found out this year, they’re fun and easy to make yourself.
After searching online for a homemade Christmas cracker tutorial, we naturally chose the simplest how-to with the fewest steps. Lazy? No! In possession of “party favor crafting strips”? Unfortunately not. Organized enough to plan ahead and schedule time to download a cracker and snap pattern from Circuit Design Space (whatever that is) and cut and “score” them on our “cutting machine”? Sigh. Maybe someday.
Fear not. You don’t need Martha Stewart’s organized craft room for charming, DIY Christmas crackers. They require only a few simple supplies, most of which you likely already have lying around the house. And gathering the rest is a merry little exercise that will get you in the proper spirit for fully appreciating holiday poppers.
Here are the basic items you’ll need to create a quick, simple Christmas cracker: a cardboard tube of some sort — empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls work great, and empty wrapping paper rolls can be cut to make several poppers; wrapping paper (a great way to use leftover scraps too pretty to throw away); tape; little presents — candy, toys, trinkets, stickers, handwritten notes, jokes, etc. (more on these later); and ribbon, string, or yarn.
To assemble, first wrap the cardboard tube in wrapping paper, leaving a few inches of paper extending beyond each open end. Tie one of the ends closed with your string/yarn/ribbon and fill the tube with your treasures. Tie the other end shut, and ta-da! Repeat for each place setting.
Nothing says “special occasion!” quite like seeing a holiday popper on the table. At our house, they only come out once or twice a year (we sometimes have them at Easter) and only when there are lots of friends and family members gathered. To make the cracker pop, a person crosses his arms in front of his chest and takes hold of the end of the person’s popper on either side of him, while his neighbors do the same and take hold of his popper. The head of the table counts to three, and everyone gives a firm yank. Oftentimes, toys and treats from inside the poppers go flying, and the smallest person is sent crawling under the table to collect the riches.
Our store-bought poppers over the years have typically included some sort of cheap toy, a tiny pack of cards, a noisemaker, and oftentimes a useful little something, like miniature tweezers, a measuring tape, etc. There are always paper crowns, and though we’re all adults, we still trade for our favorite colors. My favorite part has always been taking turns around the table, reading each other dumb jokes and silly riddles while we shout over one another, guessing the answers, and inevitably putting those noisemakers to use.
My mother and I went to Hobby Lobby this year and bought LED finger lights, stickers, miniature pens, pirate eye patches, Hershey’s kisses, and a handful of other little delights that we’ve tailored to the people sitting at the table (e.g., small earrings for the girls and tiny screwdrivers for the boys). We’ve also written our own questions to stimulate conversation around the table — “Describe your ideal day from start to finish”; “What is something you learned this year that changed you?”; and added personal touches specifically for the person doing the popping.
Some handwritten notes could include: a quotation from a favorite book, saint, comedian, movie, or song; a hand-drawn illustration of something near and dear to the person’s heart; an inside joke; a list of things you love about the person; and so forth. In filling your Christmas crackers, pause and reflect on the person you’re designing the Christmas cracker for and let the love in your heart guide you to making it special! Doing so will get your holiday mealtime off to a lighthearted start and will be the start of a new cherished tradition, I promise.