Friday, 18 December 2009

Pulling Crackers

Funny how words in English mean something different depending upon which side of the Atlantic one is on. A British tradition is to set the table for Christmas lunch with crackers.

These odd things remind me of Tootsie Rolls or of gifts wrapped after being stuffed into an empty toilet roll.

One pulls the ends with the person sitting next to you, causing it to snap like the old snap-gun toys of my childhood. This practice reminds me of pulling on the chicken wishbone when eating home cooked fried chicken (Does anyone still do that? Pull the wishbone I mean?) Whoever is holding the bulk of the cracker wins the small trinkets and toys that fall out (In the case of the wishbone, one’s gets one’s wish). One of these trinkets is invariably a paper hat. Then the neighbour offers their cracker to be pulled and so on, until the table is littered with ‘cheap plastic tat’ (Bill’s words) and everyone is wearing a ridiculous paper crown.

Silliness and humour are subtly engrained in British culture, something to do with being able to laugh at oneself, according to Watching the English, an excellent book I would highly recommend. (Thanks again, Vivien, brilliant gift!)

This happens even at the grandest of Christmas meals and even those associated with work. One can almost imagine the Royal Family seated around the grand table with umpteen-piece silver and crystal place settings, all wearing paper hats; excepting perhaps the Queen, having a real crown to wear. There has been the odd occasion when I’ve found myself seated at a large table with relative strangers on either side and pulling a cracker is one way of starting to break the ice.

I sent a gift of Christmas crackers across to the US one time, which I later found out was actually illegal, as they are classed as ‘explosive’. It was one of the few times I really didn’t mind having to put on the green customs label what were the contents of the box, as ‘crackers’ in American means ‘savoury biscuit’ in British and so the recipients would be none the wiser.

The history of Christmas crackers apparently started in 1847 with a man by the name of Tom Smith; you wouldn't make up a story and use such a boring name, would you?

By the time we go live in the US, the cracker tradition may well have immigrated, just as Halloween is doing its best to gain roots here, which would be rather sad in a way; the world already becoming far too homogenized in terms of chain stores, restaurants and clothing styles as it is. On the other hand, I suspect Bill will enjoy carrying British traditions to the US as I have enjoyed the reverse and we may just have to learn to make crackers.

I can envision getting Americans to pull a cracker easily enough; the wearing of paper hats is another thing…

1 comment:

Joanne said...

You will have to see if these companies have e-mail addresses so you can order on line once you get her. They probably know how to ship their items without a problem.