I suppose you realise you can make your own Christmas crackers. Yes, all you need is a free afternoon, cardboard inners from toilet rolls, some crepe paper, something mildly explosive, some lame jokes or riddles and a variety of tiny "treasures".
Making your own allows you to tailor these little treasures more to your guests' individual tastes. Let's face it, not many aunties appreciate a green plastic whistle. Again.
Of course, in true Christmas spirit auntie will say she loves it, even insist it was just what she wanted, but deep down there will be hurt and hurt is far from festive. Secretly she hoped for the yellow plastic necklace Uncle Neville scored. Luckily it was just what he wanted. Uncle Neville has always enjoyed accessorising.
So how can you raise the standard of your cracker offerings? What items are useful, worthwhile, gender-neutral, environmentally friendly, socially responsible, non-addictive, smut-free, devoid of greenhouse gases, non-harmful to penguins and available in a range of attractive colours?
The truth is that there are none, so you'll just have to stick with trash. But that certainly does not mean you can't aim for a higher quality of trash.
Let's start with the party hat because history has shown us conclusively that no other primary-coloured headwear can make you look as silly while tucking into the turkey.
The cheap and nasty crackers have always included crepe paper crowns but, if you make your own, you can venture beyond this constraint to ... well ... um ... we might come back to this.
Next, you should offer a piece of confectionery. Yes, at Christmas, dental hygiene can take a running jump.
For hygiene reasons, the confectionery must be individually wrapped. Chewy toffees are guaranteed to remove the fillings of older family members, so they should be avoided. And peanut brittle will break their teeth, so that just leaves ... well ... um ... we might come back to this one too.
You simply must include a joke and the lamer the joke, the better. A few years ago, I wrote about Christmas cracker jokes in this very column, so I won't go into detail. Suffice to say that these remain my favourites:
Q: What's red and invisible?
A: No tomatoes.
Two cows in a field:
1st cow: What do you think of all this mad-cow disease business then?
2nd cow: It doesn't bother me. I'm a helicopter.
Instead of, or as well as, a joke you could include a famous motto or pearl of wisdom, something to guide the reader through the ensuing year, something didactic but pithy. Oscar Wilde is a grand source of these:
Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.
True friends stab you in the front.
But the real fun part is choosing the treasures to replace the standard offerings: the plastic whistle, thimble, dodgy compass, plastic ring, faulty padlock, tweezers that don't meet or the tape measure marked in something other than the imperial or metric system.
The bargain bin at your local pharmacy can be an excellent source of these.
Here you might find gorgeous lipstick (Uncle Neville will be delighted), lip gloss, lip balm, mini-moisturiser, bubble bath, novelty emery boards. If these all sound too feminine for you, try the bargain bin at the hardware shop as well: hinges, screws of various sizes, drill bits, rawl plugs, some fuse wire, a small packet of seeds for the garden.
Another idea is to include a photo of someone special.
It will roll up into the cracker format very easily.
What about a snapshot of Uncle Neville wearing his yellow plastic necklace? Or Winston Peters wearing lip gloss and a party hat?
Actually, looking back on all these suggestions, I'm starting to have my doubts about this whole idea. My thoughts don't sound as promising as they first did. Somehow, they've lost their lustre.
Sorry to have wasted your time but perhaps you should just stick with the cheap and nasty commercial crackers. They're a tradition, after all.