And it's not just for kids.

By Katie Holdefehr
Updated November 29, 2017
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Williams Sonoma Christmas cracker
Credit: Williams Sonoma

Now that my youngest cousin has already graduated from college and entered the work world, I’ll be honest, holiday gatherings with my kid- and pet-less family have risked losing that special holiday magic. There’s something about watching a little one eagerly opening a pile of presents from Santa that helps even the most Scrooge-like grownups tap into the spirit of the season. But in a family where everyone’s over 21 and family rules strictly state that gift-giving ends after college graduation, we all seemed to be saying bah-humbug a bit more than in Christmases past.

In an effort to revive that childlike sense of fun, a few years ago, my mom decided to instate a new family tradition that’s been a part of British holidays since the mid-nineteenth century: the Christmas cracker. A cardboard tube filled with tiny treats and wrapped in colorful paper, when the ends are pulled, it bursts open with a “crack!” and sends candies tumbling out, like a mini personal pinata. My mom had spotted this set of 12 Christmas crackers at Williams-Sonoma, and decided that these loud, colorful little presents were exactly what our family needed.

Of course, when these childish presents greeted us at each place setting at Christmas Eve dinner, my far too grown-up family initially protested. (Do we really have to do this?) The answer was, yes, we did. And when we found the colorful paper crowns inside, the kind that are mortifying for anyone over the age of five to wear, did we really have to put them on? As it turns out, yes, we did. And the corny jokes typed on small slips of paper? Yes, we really had to go around in a circle and read them out loud as we tried our hardest not to laugh. (What do snowmen wear on their heads? Ice caps.) It was so dumb, I was in tears. And the bouncy balls, and miniature croquet sets, and tic-tac-toe boards, and tiny yo-yos, and little Etch-a-Sketches that were tucked inside each present? Yes, we had to play with them all.

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It was Christmas Eve and here was my supposedly grown-up family, wearing paper crowns, laughing at dumb jokes, running all over the house in pursuit of a runaway bouncy ball—and there wasn’t a kid in sight. Now try and tell me that holiday magic isn’t real.