How to make Christmas crackers

You’re American if you ask what flavor. We’ve been setting Christmas crackers by guests’ plates on Christmas morning for about 11 years. Several years ago I bought a bunch at an after-Christmas sale, so I had enough to last a few years. This year I needed more and decided to try making my own Christmas crackers, and I learned a few things.

The “snaps” are the only thing you may not be able to find. Years ago when I looked online, I could only find them available in England. Now I can get them from Oldenglishcrackers.com–a package of 25 for $7.50 plus postage. Considering that I have almost everything else on hand, that’s a lot more crackers for what I would normally pay for just 6. Order the snaps first, then start assembling everything else.

I viewed several videos online to see how various people put them together. Tesco is a chain department store in England; their video was fast and easy, good for the basic steps. Of course, Martha Stewart has a whole Christmas cracker theme of projects online, from the crackers themselves to gift wrapping things to look like crackers. You can even print the template for the cracker tube and the special paper to wrap them. Creativity TV shows how to make a beautifully decorated, embossed, triangular-shaped cracker suitable for enclosing a diamond ring….

Supplies: toilet paper or paper towel rolls (cut to same length as toilet paper tube), glue gun, wrapping paper, ribbon, Christmas snaps, and little gifts that will fit into the tube. A paper crown (directions for that are here) and a Christmas joke or riddle are apparently the only must-haves. I found a bunch of Christmas cracker jokes–just print and cut them apart. I put in little individually wrapped candies, a dime (in lieu of the chocolate coins I couldn’t find), and a curl of ribbon. I think Martha showed confetti, but don’t feel like vacuuming the entire dining room on Christmas morning.

My quick and easy directions with tips: cut a piece of wrapping paper about 13 inches by 9 inches. Center the toilet paper roll midway between the two sides and run a glue line where it meets the paper to hold it in place. (Otherwise, it’s tricky to hold this all together when you tie the ends.) Place a snap inside the tube; hot glue the ends to the outer edges of the paper.This is the best time to insert the paper crown and riddle into the tube. (Tip: make the crowns, fold them up and insert them into the toilet paper tubes ahead of time. If you can keep them curved against the roll, it’s easier to put the other stuff inside.)

Place another cardboard tube on each side of the one in the middle but don’t glue them–they’re just place-holders. Roll one edge of the paper around the tube and glue to the middle tube; repeat with other side.

This is the tricky part–best to watch the Tesco video for the wrist movements! On one end, pull the cardboard tube out from the wrapping paper about 1 1/2 inches. Holding the middle tube in one hand and the outer tube in the other, gently push them together, turning slightly. This creates the separation twist in the paper. Remove the outer tube. Take a piece of ribbon about 18 inches long and tie a bow around that twisted part. You may have to pinch the paper together a bit. You want the bow tight enough to close that opening (so the little things inside don’t fall out) but be careful not to rip the paper. The most difficult thing is keeping the Christmas cracker together while putting on the bow. Three hands help. Not having three hands, I held the cracker between my knees so I could use both hands to tie the bow. (They don’t show that method in any of the videos.)

Once you have one end closed, insert the rest of the little items by dropping them down the open end. Repeat the twist and tie procedure with the second end. At this point your cracker is done, unless you want to put more decorations on the outside.

What I learned: foil paper tends to be stiff and difficult to twist and tie. Thin, cheap wrapping paper tears too easily. Use a good medium-weight wrapping paper that isn’t foil.

Opening the crackers: This is a group activity. One person holds an end of their cracker and another person holds the other, each tightly holding at the twisted part. At the same time, pull the ends. The cracker should pop loudly, the paper tears, and the little gifts come spilling out. (That’s why I didn’t put in confetti.) Your guest has to wear the paper crown (take blackmail or Facebook photos!) and read the Christmas riddle out loud.