Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy/ Merry Christmas!

When I was a kid, I thought Christmas crackers were for eating. I'd see them on store shelves leading up to and after the holidays and wonder: "What's different about "Christmas" crackers?" "Do people eat them with soup?" "Don't crackers go bad? Why would one want to buy them, on sale, three weeks after Christmas?!?" I've also seen tubes that look like crackers filled with tiny pots of jam so I assumed they were a fancy treat. And, since crackers were not a tradition at my house so I didn't, I admit, learn their function until my late teens.

The tradition of crackers is a British one and shared throughout the Commonwealth nations. Either before of after dinner, these cylindrical tubes are pulled apart by two people and reveal a paper hat (crown), a bad joke, and some sort of toy/ treat. Crackers have not changed significantly from their 19th century origins (originally created as a hygienic way to keep sweets) though they are no longer (or rarely) handmade and are widely available at most retailers during the holidays. While thinking about the post, I googled "Canadian Christmas crackers" thinking some demented individual might have invented crackers with bacon bits and maple syrup (patent pending). Alas. Harrod's, of course, offered a "luxury" version one year that included mp3 players and other extravagant baubles. Who says Harrods isn't classy? This year, my friend Red bought beautiful crackers decorated with cutouts of characters from the Nutcracker. We each received a whistle (of different sizes) and were assigned numbers. The point was that if we all followed the music sheet, we'd be able to play Christmas songs. We gave it the good ol' college try but did not produce any festive melodies ...

Now that I have become a savant in all things British, crackers are an essential part of the holidays. I wonder what my friends get up to in order to spread yuletide cheer?

Have a happy holiday readers!!


My friend has alighted on a Christmas tradition that was a part of my childhood, but which I had somewhat forgotten about. I remember Christmas crackers very well (the paper hat/plastic toy variety, not the Harrods luxury version). In fact, what I mostly remember about crackers is being pitifully unable to properly hold up on my end of the proceedings and proving rather ungainly in the attempt to hear the signature "crack." For various reasons, namely the uselessness of the objects within, the Christmas cracker has fallen out of favour for some years now.

The Night Before Christmas
(Illustrated cover, London, 1904)

Other British traditions continue to be of some holiday cheer in one form or another: pudding, mince tarts, Lessons and Carols from King's College Cambridge, the Queen's Christmas Message at noon on CBC, and (of course) Boxing Day (sadly now rivaled by the American import of Black Friday, but never replaced).

However much or little one marks the Yuletide, I would wish readers in the immortal words of the classic story: "a merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night."


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