Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My English Christmas Cracker Surprise

Last year, my good buddy Susanne Marie introduced me to “Christmas crackers.” She’s Australian and we enjoy comparing family traditions each holiday, but this was a new one on me. We were discussing what we needed to buy to get ready for Christmas, and she mentioned she had to get Christmas crackers. I asked, “Are they gluten free?”

With a chuckle, she explained she meant the English Christmas cracker and explained they were a sacred part of her holiday tradition. What’s a Christmas cracker you ask? According to Wikipedia:

Christmas crackers—also known as bon-bons—are part of Christmas celebrations primarily in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Commonwealth countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. A cracker consists of a cardboard tube wrapped in a brightly decorated twist of paper, making it resemble an oversized sweet-wrapper. The cracker is pulled by two people, often with arms crossed, and, much in the manner of a wishbone, the cracker splits unevenly. The split is accompanied by a mild bang or snapping sound produced by the effect of friction on a shock-sensitive, chemically-impregnated card strip (similar to that used in a cap gun). One chemical used for the friction strip is silver fulminate, which is highly unstable…..Crackers are typically pulled at the Christmas dinner table or at parties…
Typically these contents are a colored paper hat; a small toy, small plastic model or other trinket and a motto, a joke, a riddle or piece of trivia on a small strip of paper. The paper hats, with the appearance of crowns, are usually worn when eating Christmas dinner.

Christmas 2013 was the first one without my dad, and I was determined to introduce some new holiday traditions, so I bought Christmas crackers for our family brunch. They were a huge hit and just the new twist we needed on a difficult day.

In early December, I traveled to London to attend a workshop and decided I’d surprise my family this year with “real” Christmas crackers from the famed Harrod’s department store. A quick internet search of their site helped me decide which cracker set I’d purchase. (Hint: the “luxury” box of six were nearly $800. I was looking at the “practical” set which was still three times what I’d pay in the USA, but hey, they were REAL English Christmas crackers from HARROD’S!)

On my first day in the city, I found Harrod’s, which I know refer to as “the wonderland of retail.” It was amazing. The holiday decorations, the thousands upon thousands of items, the proper English sales people and the building itself all put me in a bit of a frenzied shopping overload. This store is on a five acre site and has a million square feet of selling space in 330 departments. See how I could be a bit overwhelmed? I made my way to the Christmas area, located my crackers, and bought the two boxes I’d carry home to present to my family on Christmas morning. I was blissfully happy. And tired. It is a humongous store.

My ten days in London was quickly over, and it was time to fly home. As I carefully packed my English treasures, none were as precious as the crackers that would be a magical addition to our Christmas brunch. I arrived at Heathrow Airport ready for the long journey home when I encountered a glitch in my plan.

Standing in the line to check in my bag, the airline associate efficiently worked his way down the line asking the obligatory questions. He got to me. “Hello madam. Are you carrying any…” As he listed the prohibited items I heard myself saying “no, no, no” to “flammable liquids, firearms, live animals” until he said, “Christmas crackers.”

“No…what?” I asked as I perked up. “Did you say Christmas crackers? Yes, I have those packed here.”

“I’m sorry, Miss. You can’t take those on the plane,” he said. Quickly seeing my shock, he explained the powder used to make the “pop” can cause the crackers to explode in flight and can also trigger flight delays if detected by the bomb sniffing dogs. My mind raced. No, I didn’t want to cause an international incident, but I was confident a solution could be found. I quickly asked if they could be shipped, and was directed to the excess baggage area. Crisis averted I thought as I hurried across the airport.

Smiling as I was certain I’d found the perfect solution to my dilemma, I patiently waited in line until it was my turn to explain to the young man in charge what I wanted to do. As I spoke, a concerned looked crossed his face. “Miss, it will cost a fortune to ship these to America,” he said. “What’s a fortune?” I countered. He was right. Although I’d spent more than I wanted to on the crackers themselves, it didn’t make sense to spend this much more to ship them in time for Christmas. It was then I received a true Christmas gift from Spirit.

I looked at this young man and asked, “Do you know anyone who could use these?”

“Well…I…I could use them,” he said softly, his eyes wide with shock.

“Let me gift them to you,” I said with a smile. “Merry Christmas.” I handed the boxes, still in the Harrod’s bag, to the man and watched his jaw dropped as he accepted them. I turned to walk away and saw him stare into the bag in disbelief, as a long line of customers waited for him to solve their shipping issues.

Walking back to check my luggage, I felt a huge smile cross my face as I imagined his family enjoying a special treat on Christmas. I wasn’t upset, I wasn’t worried about the money. I wasn’t even disappointed about not having “real” English Christmas crackers for my own family. I was genuinely deeply grateful to have been part of a holiday surprise for this man. It was magical.

I’m sure I’ll enjoy the beautiful crackers I purchased in Virginia that I’ll share at our family Christmas Day brunch. My real joy will be knowing a family 4,000 miles away will have a special Harrod’s treat and I that was blessed to be a part of it.

“God bless us, everyone.” Tiny Tim from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol