I despise shop bought Xmas crackers. Sad things in sixes, packed in glossy boxes full of promise and such a complete and utter let down. They really are symbolic of waste at Xmas. Just so much detritus around the table either at home or some other festive gathering. These days crackers are something to be got over, a seasonal hurdle like a childhood kiss from some old aunt smelling of lavender, cold cream and camphor. The majority are full of the most horrendous tat, fragments of useless plastic produced in Guangdong or Shenzen at 10,000 units for a £1, supplemented by a postage-sized poor joke or motto , often in questionable English , and a paper hat that is not worth the eight letters it takes to type out the two words.
On the subject of paper hats, whatever happened to them? I recall from my childhood pirate or Indian head-dresses with skulls, crossbones and real feathers. Miniature paper mache cowboy hats, pork pie trilbys or policeman’s helmets all with elastic cords that cut into your chin. These latter were part of the staple description of the newspaper cartoon drunk together with tie askew, hiccups and bubbles. All these now reduced by cost accounting and time to pathetic strips of the thinnest possible crepe paper in two colours (if you are lucky). You would not be surprised to hear that mine, unfortunately, always seem to tear as soon as I try to put them on. I fake disappointment.
You have a choice though: you could give the money to a charity and feel better or you could make your own. The latter course of action is my preference and has become a family tradition for the last ten years. It does take some effort but then anything worth doing usually does.
I am not talking about about construction from the ground up though. You will not find me in Hobbycraft rooting about in crepe paper and saving toilet rolls through the year. Your time is better invested in other activities more relevant to your guests. To begin with , buy DIY crackers , once hard to come by but now readily available in many large supermarkets and stationers. I bought mine this year from Tesco at £2.99 for six. ( This was a second attempt as the first purchase from Paperchase in Manchester were appallingly bad and not fit for purpose, Paul Calf would have simply described them as a “Bag of S___” , and the robbing swines charged £5 ) If you are reading this as the proprietor of a card shop in Heaton Moor, I still don’t understand why you laughed when I asked for these crackers.
The real effort should go into two areas. Firstly tracking down some good jokes, puzzles, riddles and brainteasers. Perhaps throw in a few ding-bats too. There are hundreds of sources on T’internet ranging from the corny old stuff through to the considerably more challenging. You can tailor the material to the recipient so the “Mentally Strong” such as the YS can match their colossal planet-sized intellects against MENSA puzzles while those around the dinner table looking for more simple amusement can try riddles like the ones in The Hobbit:
Thirty white horses on a red hill,
First they champ,
Then they stamp,
Then they stand still.
(The answer is Teeth)
Your second mission (should you choose to accept it) is to find a gift to add to the cracker. This will obviously be dependent on three factors: size, suitability and budget. Over the years, I have learned that the biggest challenge is size. There are only so many things that will fit in a small space. Some ideas are small key-rings, torches, tools and penknives. For the ladies: cosmetics, lipsticks, eye shadows, sample perfumes, lip balms, mascaras etc. This is a minefield and needs yet more planning: examination of make-up bags to establish favoured brands and colours, the need for strong refreshment on discovery of what these things often cost and the perils of being seen by others whilst frequenting makeup counters. Other things to consider are jewellery, tickets to theatres, sporting events, travel, minature bottles of liqueurs or spirits to enjoy after dinner, luxury chocolates. Perhaps paper promises for other services! (such as committing to the postprandial washing up -boom,boom!) You are limited only by your imagination. I also like to buy lottery tickets or scratch cards. This year, Euromillions are promising 25 UK Xmas Millionaires.
The suitability factor is where you have the opportunity to demonstrate your thoughtfulness. One word of warning is to ensure you label each cracker carefully as your father may not enjoy getting the London Look with a Rimmel eye-shadow. Budget is not as daunting as it seems. deduct your £3 cost of the DIY crackers from the average cost of a box of 6 luxury crackers and you are left with at least £1.50 per cracker. The sky is the limit though and you could always just put the key fob for the Bugatti Veyron in my cracker.