The English Must Be Crackers

English Crackers

“A Christmas what?”

“A Christmas Cracker.”

It was a few days before Christmas on a cold evening in the North of Holland and I was desperately trying to explain the very English tradition of Christmas Crackers to my Dutch family-in-law. A task which I was quickly discovering is very hard to do without sounding like a complete and total mad man…

“It’s a kind of long tube thing…”

… Mainly because the Dutch don’t have the tradition of Christmas Crackers…

“…and two people pull an end each…”

…and when you try to explain it to someone who has never heard of it before, it does sound like a slightly odd tradition.

“Then it goes bang and you get a small gift, a paper hat and a bad joke.”

Or maybe I was just doing a very bad job of explaining it. The look on their faces seemed to suggest that that was a possibility.

I was not used to this. Normally I am the one being confused by Dutch traditions and thinking they sound completely mad as some poor Dutch person tries to explain them to me. Now the situation had been reversed and my world turned upside down. Now I was the crazy one.

“Does the joke have to be bad?” My father-in-law asked.

“Yes. That is very important. That way everyone can groan together about how bad the joke is and the person reading it can’t be blamed for telling it wrong,” I answered, explaining the deep psychological mind games behind Christmas cracker jokes.

“And you have to wear the paper hat?” asked my brother-in-law.

“Of course. You wear it during dinner,” I answered as if pleading them to understand.

“Why?”

“I… don’t know… but you do.” To be honest my argument might have been losing some ground.

There was a short pause.

“Very strange people those English,” commented my mother-in-law.

I decided they were probably right. There was no point denying it. It is a very weird tradition that proves the English can be as strange as the Dutch.

Besides, I was never going to win. It was three against one.

15 responses to “The English Must Be Crackers”

  1. Nathalie in NL says:

    Haha, I didn’t realise they were not a Dutch thing as my partner was completely unsurprised about them when he joined us for Christmas the first time…

    I kind of think that the only way to introduce someone to weird traditions is by really overstating their importance. If you are slightly apologetic and basically very British about all the weird stuff we do then nobody will be with you, but if you insist it’s an incredibly vital part of the day then…actually they may still just look at you funny!

  2. Meta says:

    Now you can get them at the Hema, so you don’t have to explain it, just show them!
    Aren’t the paper hats crowns? For the three wise men/ kings from the east?

  3. Alison says:

    I grew up hearing about them, but for whatever reason, none of my British relatives ever sent any to us. A number of years ago, my mother finally found some for sale in the US and I finally got to try it. After decades of waiting, it was a bit of a let down. It turns out that growing up with the “idea” doesn’t translate into actually relating to it. ;)

  4. Likeahike says:

    I agree with your mother-in-law. ;-)

  5. Invader_Stu says:

    Nathalie in NL – I think some Dutch people must be familiar with them. Maybe not many but some. I’m sure they pop up in Christmas movies occasionally. They are starting to be available in this country now any way.

    Meta – I saw that two last year. In fact we even took some with us last year and my father-in-law did in fact wear the paper hat. This conversation actually took place the year before. I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while and realized the window of operatunity was running out since they are now starting to sell them over here. And you are right. They are crowns. As I said, I was not doing a very good job of explaining it :p

    Alison – They are not an American thing either? I hear there are some very expensive ones you can get. They might be less of a let down but they won’t leave you with much money.

    Likeahike – So do I Likeahike… so do I.

  6. Pia says:

    Alison, you hit the nail on the head. I had been hearing about them forever, and then got to experience it in England last year. Kind of a let down actually. And rather silly as well, but hey, it’s a Christmas tradition so you have to go with it. Oh, and yeah, very upscale catalogs in America do have them.

  7. Windmilltales says:

    I love that you can buy them in the Hema now, but some of them dont include s gify too. You have to have the gift which nobody really wants but always exclaims oh how useful just.what iI needed!

    Also i found it funny to see thst the Hema advertised them as kinder vuurwerk Seems the tradition hasnt quite ,been translated into Dutch society yet

  8. Gez says:

    You can get them in Hema? Might have to try and get a box then. Will be going with my girlfriend to her brother + family for Christmas day…

  9. Invader_Stu says:

    Windmilltales – You also get a lot of crackers that give the same kind of gifts. I’ve lost count of how many of those little plastic fish things that react to the heat from your hand I’ve gotten.

    Gez – Are they Dutch? Let us know how confused they get :)

  10. Perovskia says:

    That’s awesome; your post just gave me flashbacks to Boxing Day dinner with the family (I’m in Canada). Every detail so true. I wonder if I will have the same difficulty explaining this to my in-laws. Perhaps you’ll have some hindsight advice? :)

  11. Invader_Stu says:

    Perovskia: Take some crackers with you. They still thought I was weird but making my family-in-law try them out (and wear the hats) gave them a better understanding of it :p

  12. VallyP says:

    I had a similar experience with Koos, Stu. He still doesn’t get why it should be considered fun! And as for wearing the hat, well….

  13. VallyP says:

    Ooops, forgot to say. HAPPY CHRISTMAS you three! I never did get round to doing cards, but Sophie will get a new story soon to make up for it – thanks to Dragon Lady :-)

  14. Meta says:

    My sisters and I were obsessed with english things when we were kids (we’re dutch) and we were thrilled when we found christmas crackers at a local shop many years ago. Since then it is also a tradition in our house, but we can’t find them every year. This year we almost forgot, but my youngest sister found cute small ones at a shop :)

  15. I’ve got the most British speaking uncle after the Royals`( my uncle and aunt ran an English school on the Costa del Sol). When the family was in NL they brought these along for the kids. For me it was not a very special tradition, some printed fortune cooky wisdom on flimsy paper means as much as the horoscope and those trick fireworks you can tie to a doorpost or toilet seat work better.
    We ( Nederlanders) already have the wonderful Sinterklaas tradition of writing eachother cheeky rhymes and disguising gifts in weird personalised ways.
    I never said this to them ofcourse, but I was always a bit disappointed by the contends of those almost empty crackers,
    Must be a childhood memory thing for you, I felt insincere by pretending to be amused. Sorry,

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