The beginning of October and yes, I am already planning my Advent, Midwinter and Christmas celebrations. No, it is most certainly not too early to be doing so. It is only just over two and a half months to the Winter Solstice and Christmas Day, with most of the celebrations actually taking place beforehand in the month of Advent. As I like to make most of my own foods, treats and surprises, it is never too early to make a start.
This autumn many of my ideas are revolving around crackers – the ubiquitous table decoration which frequently yields hoots of derision, laughter or groans of despair as images of paltry plastic tat, brain-cringing jokes and wayward paper hats spring to mind. Yet they are an integral part of our Christmas dinner fun.
Harking back to the original crackers which were developed by Tom Smith back in the 1840’s and 1850’s, crackers can be used for any occasion – not just Christmas – and can contain anything you wish from love letters to very expensive gifts. They can be colour/decoration co-ordinated with your surroundings or with themed contents for lovers of books, the garden and so on.
In the past, I have tried the better type of cracker with nice hats, good jokes and mottos and expensive gifts, but discovered, to my great disappointment, that they were still regarded as no better than the cheap, gaudy ones, and were largely discarded on the dinner table with little thought or consideration.
Now, my focus for Midwinter festivity is always inclusive communal activity and suggestions and encouragement as to how everyone might join in and give rather than passively sit back and simply receive. I make my own crackers and fill them with interactive gifts, suggested activities, impertinent questions to ask fellow diners or philosophical suggestions and sweets. Sometimes there are no hats included; instead, revellers have to make and decorate their own as a pre-dinner activity – and the more sherry consumed the livelier the creations produced!
Making your own crackers can be a communal activity – just leave one end open to be filled and sealed later so that only you know what is actually contained within them. Crackers can be a little fiddly but are not difficult to make. Nor need they be expensive – you can make crackers form sheets of discarded newspaper (a ball of colourful Christmas twine and a length of tinsel cut up to make glittery pompoms completes the decoration) and fill them with jokes downloaded from the internet (or copied out of books from the library – get you kids to help you with that one!). If you really aren’t that ‘craftily’ inclined, buy a box of crackers and carefully open the end of each and insert a better gift and extra jokes. One of my favourite inclusions in crackers for any dinner table is a question to ask your neighbour – or to ask the assembled company as a whole – this can stimulate lots of interesting discussion and laughter and is a good ice-breaker for multi-generations of one family or people who don’t already know one another.
Crackers can be made and used for any season or occasion throughout the year – try making them from pale yellow or green crepe paper and decorating them with silk flowers for your Easter Sunday lunch table, or similarly themed for summer… try deep yellow, brown and red for autumn decorated with bunches of berries – real or synthetic – and filled appropriately, or orange and black ones for Hallowe’en… the possibilities are endless.
The key tip here is to make them well in advance, while you have the time to feel inspired and enjoy the process, then pack them away well covered and protected until they are needed so that they don’t become damaged, dusty or tired-looking in the meantime. It is absolutely no pleasure to anyone if you have all these wonderful ideas and then leave them until the last minute when they can become a horrendous chore to all concerned.
Have fun! Planning and plotting surprises and joy for others doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy ourselves too. If something doesn’t bring you some measure of satisfaction and pleasure, then don’t do it – find something (or someone!) else instead. Living our lives should be as nourishing and enjoyable as possible – why not? But that is a topic for another post another day!
If you would like to know more about the history of the cracker, click on the link below to read an excellent article produced by the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Please note, ‘cracks’ for crackers can easily be purchased on the internet, and although they might initially cost you several pounds for the old measure of a gross (144), kept somewhere dry they will last for many years.