Carolers, sleigh bells – these are the sounds of the season. But in Britain, so are the exciting crackle! and bang! of Christmas crackers, festive paper tubes used for small presents.
Photography: David Meredith1 of 8
Less popular stateside, these packages are a British holiday dinner staple. Traditionally they hold paper crowns and a riddle or joke and are small enough to fit on a plate. Our DIY versions, however, run the gamut from said stocking stuffer to sight-gaggish supersized. Best of all, they can solve various gift-wrap conundrums (we're looking at you, enormous stuffed leopard).
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Fork, soup spoon, knife ... and cracker. In England, crackers are as good as part of the place setting, and it's a ritual to open them before digging into the holiday meal. Busting them open requires tugging the ends in opposite directions -- and often becomes a group activity at a crowded supper table. They most often contain tissue-paper crowns (oddly, not a nod to HRH but to a character in the medieval Christmas celebration), which guests good-naturedly place on their heads and wear throughout dinner.
Photography: David Meredith3 of 8
The Cracker Essentials
The Christmas equivalent of Fourth of July bang snaps, crackers open with a bang, thanks to cracker snaps, far left. Perforating the wrapping paper, top, at the folds keeps the gathered ends loose enough to break and gives the finished product a neat, cylindrical look. Fill with trinkets and a paper crown (in keeping with the Brits). Decorate with clip-art bands, and tie with ribbon.
Cracker snaps, $6.25 for 25, oldenglishcrackers.com. Metallic craft paper, in Citrus, Gold, and Copper, 24" by 85', $20 per roll, nashvillewraps.com. Metallic foil, in Gold, Dull Gold, Red, and Red Copper, $15 per roll, hyglossproducts.com. Dutch felt text-weight paper (P_L32473), 8 1/2" by 11", in Creamery, $9 for 50 sheets, paperpresentation.com. Ribbon, mjtrim.com.
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Say goodbye to the trash bag as the wrapping of last resort for oversize gifts. Colossal (non-banging) crackers like these are just the solution for any bulky, hard-to-wrap present. At their core are cardboard tubes typically used for pouring concrete (and found at building-supply stores). Glue crepe paper to each end, and gather with ribbon. Then cover the body of the tube with wrapping paper, and add a clip-art tag.
Photography: David Meredith5 of 8
What Lies Beneath?
Here's an excellent speedy (and easy) way to wrap almost anything: Place gifts in empty cereal or shoe boxes, tuck them into paper-towel or toilet-paper rolls, or ditch the boxes altogether and just cover them with crepe paper, as we did with the ball and wine bottle here (we'll give you two guesses). Finish the packages with wrapping paper or tissue, and tie them off with ribbon. Our clip-art tags give them another graphic layer.
Florist crepe paper, 20" by 8', in Red Velvet, Red, and Ruby, $7 per roll; and metallic crepe paper, 50 cm by 250 cm, in Red, $14 per sheet; castleintheair.biz. Ribbon, from Mokuba, 212-869-8900.
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Look around the house for surprising gift-packaging materials: Brown paper mesh — aka the eco equivalent of bubble wrap — has lots of winning qualities. It's flexible, durable, and recyclable. And with a pattern this pretty, why hide it inside boxes?
Photography: David Meredith7 of 8
Crackers for Cookies
Stack this year's holiday cookies and sweets inside store-bought clear tubes. At under $2 each, they're more affordable — and festive — than tins or plastic containers. (They're also sturdier in transit than cellophane wrapping.) Adding fringed crepe paper transforms the tube into a cracker: Attach it to the caps, gather with shimmery ribbon, and finish with clip-art bands around the ends.
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The oversize proportions of this pinata bring the cracker to a whimsical level. Fill this foam-board creation with confetti and treats, suspend it from the ceiling with twine, and let the kids work for their loot. Too pretty to break? It can be part of your holiday decor and stored for next year. Download the clip-art template, cut it out of foam board, and score the sides to ensure breakability (unless you're looking for a way to really wear the kids out). Coat it with gold spray paint, let it dry, and adorn it with a clip-art bellyband.