The holidays are when we may decorate with evergreen wreaths, candles, menorahs or bright, twinkling lights. How about making decorations that add a fun activity to the family dinner?

Christmas crackers are cardboard tubes filled with surprises and jokes. The tubes are covered with colorful paper and twisted at both ends to look like a large piece of candy. When pulled apart, they make a popping sound. You might remember seeing these holiday crackers in the movie “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”

Christmas crackers were first made in England in the mid-19th century by a London baker named Tom Smith. When Smith visited Paris, France, in 1847, he discovered bonbons, delicious almond treats wrapped in tissue paper. He decided to make something similar for customers at his shop.

But how could Smith make his treats special? He got an idea when he heard the crackling sounds of logs in a fireplace. He developed a small device that would make a cracking noise when pulled apart, and by 1860 he had made it a part of his Christmas crackers. When the crackers were pulled from each end, they made a popping sound as they opened, and candies and jokes written on pieces of paper would spill out. Christmas crackers soon became a popular part of the British holiday celebrations.

Smith’s shop was granted a special license in 1906 to provide Christmas crackers for the British royal family, and his company still makes them for the family’s holiday dinner. What is inside those crackers? That’s a carefully guarded secret.

Families in England place the crackers on plates at their holiday dinner table. They are opened before or after the meal, and everyone shares the jokes on paper. Make sure the jokes in your crackers are super silly!

Need help coming up with jokes? Here are a few to get you started:

What does Santa suffer from if he gets stuck in a chimney? (Claus-trophobia)

Who delivers presents to cats and dogs? (Santa paws)

What do Santa’s helpers learn at school? (The elf-abet)

Adult help: Some

Hands-on time: About 40 minutes

Makes: 4 crackers

Supplies

●2 sheets of colored construction paper or plain white paper

●8 empty rolls of toilet paper or 4 empty paper-towel tubes

●Ruler or measuring tape

●Scissors

●Pencil and markers

●Wrapping paper or 4 large sheets of tissue paper

●4 cracker strips or snaps (available online and at craft/party supply stores)

●Glue or glue stick

●Colored ribbons

●Small candy and/or toy items

●Bows, stickers, patterned tape

Steps

For the jokes

Fold a piece of construction paper in half and fold again. Unfold and cut along the creases to make 4 rectangles. Write a joke on each and fold twice to put into the crackers. Set aside.

For the crackers

1. For each cracker, have an adult help you cut an empty paper-towel roll into two 4-inch tubes or use two empty toilet paper rolls.

2. Measure 1 inch from an end of one of the rolls, and draw a line in pencil alongside the ruler. Cut on the 1-inch marking on the roll with scissors to create a slit in the tube.

3. Fold 1 large sheet of tissue paper in half, and cut to a length of 14 inches and a width of 10 inches. (If using wrapping paper instead, cut a 14-inch-by-10-inch piece.)

4. Line up the two rolls in the middle of the paper. Gently push the uncut tube about 1 inch into the slit side of the other tube to form one tube.

5. Slide the cracker strip through the tube, allowing the ends to stick out on either side.

6. Use a drop of glue or a glue stick to attach the cracker strip to the inside of the left end of the tube. If using glue, allow it to dry for 10 minutes.

7. Roll the paper around the tubes. Gather the paper on the left side and secure with a ribbon.

8. Fill the tube from the opposite, open end with candy, small toys and jokes.

9. Secure the other end with ribbon to form the completed cracker.

10. Decorate with colorful tape, stickers and bows.

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