The first time she went to a Christmas party, Rahila Sayed thought she was getting faulty crackers.
They looked lovely and promising, but cracked open to disappointment and slips of paper she couldn't understand.
"Nothing inside?" the former Afghan refugee recalls.
The 38-year-old solo mother and grandmother would never have guessed she would be making reusable versions of the baffling Christmas tradition one day.
New Zealand imported 1.7 million disposable crackers last year, down from 4.5 million in 2015. It's a trend that suggests people are losing interest in single-use items, says Emma Conyngham, creator of what she calls the Christmas "re-cracker".
The former UN aid worker spent months engineering the right tension in a cracker "you have to fiercely pull apart". Inside is a reusable cloth hat, a joke and a plastic-free NZ-made toy.
"They snap apart with a bang, you can smell the fireworks."
Made of cardboard tubes and washable cotton sleeves, the patented crackers will be sewn and put together by more than a dozen Afghan women in Auckland, together with Kiwi seamstresses in Wānaka. The women are also making cotton gift bags, an alternative to wrapping paper.
"Any wrapping paper or cardboard that's shiny or metallic is not recyclable," says Conyngham.
Sayed lost her sewing job at a garment factory last year due to Covid, and sewing cracker sleeves and gift bags at home fits well into her babysitting job, housework, school drop-offs and pick-ups, while providing much-needed income.
Originally from Afghanistan, her family fled to neighbouring Pakistan when she was just 2 years old. She grew up in a refugee camp in Peshawar, where she married and had six children. In 2010, a bomb went off at the market where her husband ran a CD shop, killing him and many others.
She arrived in Auckland with five of her children in 2014, part of the first wave of refugees from Pakistan to be resettled in New Zealand.
"From the moment I put my foot down in the country, I saw nothing but good things," Sayed said, speaking in Pashto through an interpreter. Her eldest son had a serious eye condition and would have gone blind without the treatment he received in New Zealand.
"So if there is any way we can give back to the community ... that will make us happy."
The Afghan sewing circle meets every Tuesday to use the community sewing machines at the Mangere East Community Centre, and are waiting for much-needed industrial machines sponsored by Sewingtime and three other Kiwi businesses.
Getting the new machines is a dream come true for the women, who do not fit the criteria for a bank loan to start a business.
Conyngham says there is something magical about Muslim women coming together on a sewing project for a quintessentially Christian tradition.
"Mary and Jesus are very respected people in the Quran," says Fahima Saeid, manager at New Settlers Family and Community Trust, the refugee service supporting the sewing group.
Sayed has grown to enjoy the Christmas cracker but still believes they are meant for children, and the jokes - with their English puns, nuances, and cultural references - are as elusive as ever.
"They don't make any sense to us!" she says, laughing.
• Keen to help? Email Emma Conyngham at email@example.com or Fahima Saeid at firstname.lastname@example.org