Sunday, December 10, 2006

Christmas Crackers

Christmas Crackers are one of those quintessentially British things. They look like firecrackers--big fat ones, you pull them apart like a wishbone, and things fall out of them like a pinata when cracked open. I first experienced them last Christmas in New Zealand and decided when in Glasgow two weeks ago that I must have some to take to the States for Christmas. My work mates told me where to go to look for them--Debenhams or another classic British store whose name I can't now recall.

I found them in this posh department store with Disney motifs on them. I was appalled. I found some also in a shop run by a Pakistani that were imported from China with Asian-influenced ideas on what was quintessentially British. I began to despair in my quest to take British icons to America to demonstrate my conversion to Britishness.

And then I found them. A box of one dozen golden wrapped extremely British looking Christmas Crackers at half price (I am, after all, not just British but Scottish, and part of my conversion is to become a canny shopper.) My friend's car was filled to the brim with the things the three of us bought in the Big City. I was prepared to hold my Christmas Crackers on my lap.

The Christmas Crackers and my friends and I all got home safely. I proudly announced my purchase and my intentions to my husband who deflated me with a single word: "Explosives." I am not sure how much explosive potential even one dozen Christmas Crackers would have or what diabolically clever mechanism one might devise to pull both sides of them simultaneously from the hold of an airplane, but I realized in an instant that I could not take them with me to Chicago. I did not want to have to explain to a humorless clerk what Christmas Crackers meant to me.

I thought I had put the crackers out of my mind. Last night we were eating by the fire in one of our favorite pubs and the waitress set out Christmas crackers for a large table of guests expected soon. I looked wistfully at the Crackers--shiny red foil ones containing the kinds of treasures that only very small children could want, and, of course, the ultimate treasure.

As the waitress turned, with the basket full of Crackers on her arm, she asked would we like some, too. My husband and I said yes and the table of Americans sitting next to us said, yes, too, without hesitation. Christmas Crackers reduce us all to a mental age of about 8. My husband pulled one end of my friend's cracker. There was a disappointing sound of cardboard and foil tearing. He and I pulled mine open with a very satisfying bang.

Both tables set about reading the enclosed wit: "What did the first mountain say to the second one?"
"Let's Meet in the valley." and looking at their gee gaws.

Only Morris and I indulged in the ultimate nonsense and donned the paper crowns that are the ultimate treasure in a Christmas Cracker. They never seem to fit anyone. Little children take a tuck in theirs and count on their ears to keep it from becoming a collar. Ladies with big hair perch them decorously on top. I put mine on and fiddled with it from time to time as it slid down over my hair so that my ears could not keep it from falling into my eyes. The crown is the ultimate treasure because it is so absolutely silly. I have seen photos of worthy lairds or dour patriarchs or seen the most sober-minded, self-conscious individual donning these paper crowns with no hesitation and being just for a little while transformed into the child we all like to be.


At 4:35 PM, Blogger Hayden said...

that sounds perfect! I love moments like that, they strip all of the stuffiness out of us and bring back the world of play.

can you mail the crackers ahead? labeled just as christmas presents?

At 6:17 PM, Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

I'm having trouble visualizing the Crackers... I'm thinking giant fortune cookies....

At 9:52 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

If I had thought about it in time, I might have been able to. I put two of the paper crowns into the card I sent to my daughter and grandson, which will probably get there in time.

At 9:54 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Well, Curmudgeon, the idea is spot on, but the shape is different. They look like toilet paper rolls wrapped in paper and the paper is collected at the edges instead of folded in like a proper job of wrapping. And if you do it right they do crack like thjose little strips of "ammo" that we put in cap pistols when they world seemed a lot more naive.

At 12:38 AM, Blogger ZACL said...

Hey - having had this very conversation with you tonight, while you and I plus others were pulling crackers that all had a satisfying 'pop' it makes this blog very close to home and much more personal. I hope you can put my mini water pistol to good use, the bright green yo-yo key ring should be fun.

I thought our crowns were very appropriate, even the colouration was right, a kind of purple.

At 3:37 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Purple crowns seem very right not only for their regalness but also for the fact that Roman senators were the only ones to wear the purple stripe on their toga and they earned it by being wise and older--just like us around the table.


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