Make your own traditional English Christmas crackers
Have you ever heard of Christmas crackers? I’m not talking about crispy snack rounds topped with cheese on a buffet table, but instead I mean those decorative, tube-shaped, party favors that are filled with goodies. To open a cracker, you pull on both ends of it, tearing the paper and releasing a fun “pop” or “crack” noise. Then out fall all the tiny gifts!
Christmas crackers were invented in the mid-1840s and are a traditional part of British Christmas festivities. However, you can find crackers at just about any festive occasion, like birthdays, anniversaries, or weddings. Traditionally decorated with glorious paper and filled with a tissue paper crown, a joke or riddle, and a novelty toy, crackers can easily be adapted to suit any occasion.
And the best part is that Christmas crackers are really easy and fun to make!
Jo and I realized we had lots of opportunities to use crackers this year. So, we sat down one day and made a whole bunch of them to use:
- …to decorate place-settings at the table for Christmas dinner with our families
- …to hand out as party favors at Jo’s upcoming neighborhood Christmas party
- …to stuff into stockings on Christmas eve
- …to entertain the children at my niece’s upcoming Christmas cookie decorating party
- …to hold small noisemakers, paper hats, and confetti for Jo’s New Year’s Eve party
Here’s how we did it.
Choose a cardboard tube
The cracker is basically built from a simple cardboard tube. You can use paper towel rolls, toilet paper rolls, or empty gift wrapping paper rolls. The width of the tube will vary from roll to roll, but that doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s somewhere between 1.5 inches and 2.5 inches. Take a moment to measure the width of the tube before you begin, because you’ll need to know it for one of the steps. For these instructions, I’ll assume you have a 2″ wide tube, which is average size for a gift wrapping paper roll.
Cut a 4″ long piece of cardboard tube and two 2″ long pieces. These will be the components of your cracker. If you are making these for an extra fancy occasion, you may want to paint the insides of the two shorter pieces white so that the brown doesn’t show in the finished piece.
Find some Cracker Snaps
A cracker isn’t a cracker without the fun “pop” that you hear when you pull it apart. That “pop” comes from a simple “cracker snap“, which is a long cardboard strip with a specially-treated area in the middle that makes a sound when you pull it apart. You can make a cracker without a snap, but it won’t be authentic and it won’t be nearly as fun, so I highly recommend them.
You’ll want to wrap your cracker with a decorative paper. The best thing to use is a thin gift wrapping paper. You can use thicker papers, but be sure that they will tear easily or else they won’t work (if you use plastic or film-based “paper”, they won’t tear at all and you won’t be able to open the cracker). Cut the paper about 8 inches wide. The length will depend on the cardboard tube you used. You’ll need 8 inches just to cover the three pieces of cardboard (4″+2″+2″), but you’ll want to space those pieces out, so you’ll need extra paper to cover the gaps between them. The width of these gaps should be about the same as the width of the tube. In our case, that’s 2″, so if we add in two 2″ gaps, our total paper width is 12 inches (8″+2″+2″).
You’ll also need a hot glue gun (or some double-stick tape), some regular tape, some curling ribbon, and a collection of tiny goodies to put inside the cracker. (See later in this post for instructions on making a tissue paper crown.)
Wrap the tube
Using hot glue or double-sided tape, attach the cardboard tubes to the wide edge of the paper. The small tubes should go on either end, lining up flush with the edge of the paper. The remaining tube should go right in the middle. Here you can see the 2″ gap we left between the tubes.
Now use regular tape to attach the cracker snap lengthwise in the middle of the paper. Tape both ends of it down.
Roll the tubes up until the paper is wrapped completely around them. Attach the end with hot glue or double-sided tape.
Pinch the first end closed
Take your thumb and forefinger and pinch one end of the cracker closed, right in the middle of the gap we left between the tubes. Tie it tightly with a piece of curling ribbon. You can see now why the gap in the paper was so important, and why it needed to be as wide as the tube — too short, and the paper wouldn’t pinch all the way to the center, and would tear when you tied the ribbon.
Fill the cracker
Now add your goodies into the open end of the cracker. To meet with tradition, you should include a tissue paper crown (see instructions below), a joke or riddle, and a novelty toy. You can also add candy or any little goodies you want. (Can you imagine getting an engagement ring this way? What a unique Christmas proposal that would be!)
Close the other end
Your cracker is complete and ready to be enjoyed at a party.
Opening the cracker
Be sure that when you grab the ends, you grab them firmly and have a good grip on the cracker snap inside. Then pull pretty hard and quick, so that you get a good pop. If it works, it will sound like a little firecracker!
BONUS – Making a tissue paper crown
Traditional crackers always contain a tissue paper crown. They’re really easy to make, so why not add one? Start with a long strip of tissue paper that’s about 2-3 inches wide. Form it into a loop that’s big enough to fit around most people’s heads and secure the ends with tape or glue. Then fold it in half three of four times until it’s a couple of inches wide, and cut the top edge into a decorative shape. You can go with a simple angled cut that will reveal a crown design when opened, or do more elaborate spires and holes if you wish, depending on how much time you have. When the tissue is unfolded, it will make a nice crown for the recipient to wear.