Sunday, December 20, 2009

Going Crackers at Christmas

This week: Christmas Crackers


About ten years ago I asked my husband to bring me some Christmas crackers back from his 17th business trip to London that year. My (then) two children were really getting into Christmas so I thought I’d throw in as many British traditions as I could. The likelihood of them eating sticky Christmas pud complete with brandy butter was remote, and Brussels sprouts were practically banned from the house, but I knew they would go for Christmas crackers.

Back in the day, you couldn’t get them in the US for love nor money. I once asked my mother to send some, but the postage made them ridiculously expensive, so I leapt at the chance to have them hand delivered by the Ball & Chain. I told the kids about these fabulous crackers and our excitement mounted as daddy walked through the door – and presented us with a lovely tin of Harrods ginger cookies or something. Certainly weren’t Christmas crackers. Disappointed.

This year I paid through the nose for three boxes of Christmas crackers from Cost Plus/World market, and took them into the Little Guy’s classroom. I was the “foreigner” coming in to talk about Christmas traditions from around the world. They seemed disappointed to find the crackers weren’t at all edible, but that soon dissipated when they saw the cheap plastic toy inside, and of course, the paper crown. I explained that sensible grown-ups eat their entire Christmas dinner with said paper crowns perched atop their noggins, and the kids looked like they didn’t believe me. What’s so funny about that?

We are spending this Christmas with my American in-laws, and wouldn’t you know, I have just enough crackers left for all of us.


I think Crackers are one of the coolest things about Christmas in Britain (Boxing Day is another), even though, on my first UK Yule Tide, when my wife was still my fiancĂ©e and her mum sent us to get the Christmas Crackers, I was confused that we didn’t go to the biscuits and cracker isle and headed toward the seasonal section, instead.

Now, of course, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without crackers. They appear at every festive dinner throughout the season and every time they do, they make people forget they are British. These normally staid citizens of Great Britain set upon them, snap them open with their table partners, willingly don the paper crown for the duration of the meal and read the achingly awful joke out for all to hear. As near as I can figure, there must be some sort of legislation compelling this behavior; I can offer no other explanation.

For the uninitiated among you, a Christmas Crack looks like a gaily wrapped, empty toilet paper tube, but with a naff gift and the aforementioned crown and joke inside along with enough explosives to put them in the “Dangerous Device” category, making them illegal to send in the mail and causing some airlines to forbid carrying them aboard least you attempt to bring down an Airbus A330 with one, but which, in practice, makes a sound about half as loud as a Greenie Stick ‘em Cap.

If you’re an ex-pat living in the UK, we’d love to hear what you think of these foreign, but irresistible holiday devices, and if you grew up with them, what are you’re feelings about them, and, most of all, what do you who have never heard/seen/experienced Christmas Crackers think of the idea? Crackers, or what?

Have a Merry Christmas, everyone!

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  1. Ha, crackers are great. But incredibly expensive for what they are - more than £2 each, a lot of the time. The better quality ones, whose gifts you may even have half a chance of using, are worth buying in the sales, but if you have young kids it's much better to go cheap 'n' cheerful, as it'll all end up in the bin eventually anyway.

    Still, it's all good fun, and Christmas just wouldn't be the same without them.

  2. This is my first year with Crackers, and I have to say, having never heard of them before last month, I was hesitant to spend good money on something that was of no use and pointless in my mind. I finally did look into them, and when I realized that you could see on the back of the box what was in them (would have helped me understand a little sooner had dear husband told me this!), I decided to get on board with it. Part of this is also due to the fact that this is our only Christmas together in England, so we should enjoy all the traditions while we can. I still think they are way too much money for what they are, and the smallest (inexpensive) packs we could find at our Sainsbury's was a 12 pack. I realize with packaging costs, it wouldn't be that much cheaper for a 4 pack, but still, not everyone feeds the whole neighborhood or extended family on Christmas!

  3. I love crackers!! And had no idea that they dont Exist, as it were in USA. Wow. what would we do without them here in England.

  4. Arggh, I just realised I don't have Crackers yet! I'll have to go to World Market like Toni and get some tomorrow. Last year my son got a whoopie cushion in his and it made his (our) day!

  5. Prepare for a second mortgage Pam. I don't know - for some reason I always think they should be cheaper here, but they were about $12-15 per box, which I realise is cheap when you convert it to pounds, but when you need three boxes for a school thing, it adds up. Especially since they're usually full of tat. However, the Cost Plus ones had fair-to-middling gifts in them, relatively speaking.

  6. I first realized that crackers were not a US 'thing' when showing my Californian roommates pictures of my family that were taken around our Christmas table. "why are they wearing paper hats? I was asked. "because it was Christmas" was met with blank stares, so I had to explain the cracker phenomenum, the first of many times

    over the past 13 years I gave smuggled them over, had my parents illegally mail them, and finally discovered a little British store where I can buy them!

  7. Illegally mail them? Blimey I must have had mine sent before the "heightened security". I suppose they do consitute a firearm these days don't they?

  8. Ever since we lived in England for three years, our Christmases are just not complete without crackers! And good ones are tough to find on this side of the pond.

    And it always amazed me how many actually wore the silly paper hats over there.

    Merry Christmas to Mike and Toni (and to your respective families).

  9. We mail them every year to family in the US - who, as a mark of respect (or maybe to take the p*ss out of) for their British brother in law/stepfather solemnlywear the hats during Christmas lunch and do the whole cracker pulling thing. We mailed some this year and were up front on the customs declaration and they arrived with no problem at all.

  10. Meryy Xmas to all and to all a good night. (The Night Before Before Christmas - a tradition in our house on Xmas Eve when grandad reads it).
    And isn't is nice to know the US security is doing it's job and letting fire hazards through when last year they confiscated my plastic knitting needles.

  11. Happy Christmas and a super 2010 to you both! Have a crackin' time the pair of you....Hadriana xx

  12. Thanks all,

    Happy Christmas and all the best in the New Year.

  13. We love Christmas crackers. When we were back in the US I even incorporated them into our Thanksgiving celebration. Weird I know, but the kids love it.

  14. This is a lot late in coming. I've just started reading. But...I saw crackers at Tuesday Morning. I don't know if they are everywhere; I'm in Texas. I suppose I could look, but instead I'll give you their web site, and maybe next year (oops, this year) you can order them, having them delivered rather than chasing them down.


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