Some astonishing news has reached us this December. Apparently, on most of the rest of this planet, Christmas crackers aren't a thing. Nobody knows what they are, and nobody much cares either. Crackers are a thing in the UK, Ireland, and a few commonwealth countries like Australia, South Africa, and Canada. Nobody else has a stocking-stuffing CLUE what they are.
This has got to end.
There are quite a few British Chrimble traditions that we're sure the rest of the world can continue to do without - being scarred for life by Raymond Briggs' The Snowman, for one - but Christmas crackers? You don't know what you're missing, my friends.
First of all, a quick explanation of what constitutes a Christmas cracker. Basically, a cracker is a cardboard tube wrapped up in colourful paper and tied with ribbon at both ends. Crackers are usually set out on the table for Christmas lunch, and 'pulled' (more on this in a moment) at some point during the meal. Kind of like a wishbone, someone grabs hold of either end and yanks it; there's a sharp crack (caused by you tearing through a chemically treated strip), and someone ends up with most of the cracker, and the glorious booty within.
At the very least, a cracker should contain a flimsy paper party hat (they look more like crowns really, but then we're British, what do you expect?), an easily/instantly broken plastic toy, and of course, a scrap of paper upon which is inscribed a marvellous joke.
Read on for some essential points of Christmas cracker lore - you'll need to know all of this if you ever expect to cracker with the best of them.
1. You must, repeat MUST, wear the paper hat. You'll be lucky if you can get it onto your head without tearing it in twain, but unfortunately it's the done thing. Not wearing your paper hat for at least the duration of the meal is the modern equivalent of showing up to a Downton Abbey white tie event wearing your black tie by mistake - oh, the humanity!
(N.B. There is always one snooty so-and-so who refuses point blank to wear the hat. Common practice is to make fun of them mercilessly until they do. Apparently, the tradition of wearing festive hats goes all the way back to Roman times. Are you better than the Romans? Put your darn hat on).
2. Yes, we know the jokes are awful. Cracker jokes are always awful. And you've probably heard them all before anyway. Here's an example of a classic cracker joke: Why would you invite a mushroom to a party? Because he's a fun guy to be around. Et Cetera, Ad Nauseam.
The idea behind the awful cracker joke tradition is to unite you all in sheer hatred of the joke, thereby encouraging camaraderie and good cheer amongst the company. That, and you can't have blue jokes being told in front of Granny and the toddlers (although Granny could probably tell a few that would knock the sixpence out of the pudding).
3. Depending on how much you've spent on your crackers (they run the gamut from ridiculously cheap to extortionately expensive), you can find anything from a bejewelled necklace to an oversized plastic paperclip (that was a particularly bad year) inside your cracker as a prize. Traditional offerings include dice, spinning tops, whistles, tiddly-winks (people know what tiddly winks are, right? We don't have to explain that too, do we?), key rings, and other small trinkets along those lines.
Some people buy empty crackers and fill them with little presents personalised for each diner, but to be frank most of us can't be bothered with all that guff and plump for the awful, cheap, kitsch, plastic-y ones. It's tradition.
So this year, instead of scouring the shops for something overpriced that they probably won't like anyway, why not gift your friends across the seas with a nice box of Christmas crackers. After all, Christmas just isn't Christmas without the crackers.