You’ve probably noticed the boxes of Christmas crackers on your holiday shopping travels. They’re the boxes filled with what look like cardboard models of Brach’s Milk Maid Royals, straight center cylinders, nipped in with a twist and a flare of paper at the end. Originally part of the British Christmas narrative, the American market must be embracing them because they are easy to find these days.
The basic cracker structure is pretty much the same. Cardboard cylinder, twist concealing a paper strip that is chemically treated to make a snapping sound when you pull on the flared ends to tear them off and get at the cheap plastic prize, fortune and, most important, tissue paper crown inside. Seeing everyone you share your holiday with standing around wearing paper crowns is ridiculously satisfying for reasons science cannot explain.
If you’re purchasing Christmas crackers, the price differential is based on the trinket that comes in the crackers. You pay more, you get slightly better cheap prizes. Do not be fooled by the packaging. Cracker makers package them to appeal to every aesthetic, from elegant gold with refined script labeling to sweet polka dot and stripes style with cheerful labeling and everything in between. The packaging may be different, the stuff inside is exactly the same. There is usually a small photo of typical prizes on the back of the box. (Last year, our cracker prizes were stick-on mustaches. Those crackers were worth their weight in adhesive felt, providing hours of quality entertainment.)
You can definitely make your own crackers and fill them with whatever would make your crowd as happy as seals with their very own bucket of fish bits. The DIY Christmas cracker market may be somewhat niche, but there lots of retailers online, including shops on Amazon, Etsy and Ebay, ready and willing to provide the absolutely essential cracker snaps and more.
Olde English Crackers has pretty much everything you need, including cracker snaps and tissue paper hats.
British celebri-chef Jamie Oliver offers a how-to with some creative ideas for what to use for paper on your crackers.
And over on tutsplus, Eleanna Kotsikou has a fabulously detailed tutorial for making crackers that will satisfy even the most diehard DIYer.
No post on Christmas crackers would be complete without mentioning Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean (1992), the viewing of which has become a holiday tradition with our extended pack of Christmas eve celebrants. It’s available on Hulu. Our Canadian friends can watch it on CBC 12/24 at 9:30 pm.