Sunday, January 1, 2017


Tired as I felt, I’m certain I experienced one of those tiny miracles that sneak into our busy holidays, late Christmas night.

By seven in the  evening my son and I arrived at the home of his fiancée’s family, the last of  three visits that day. We had spent Christmas morning with my grandchildren; we had spent Christmas lunch with my brother, an hour east. I was afraid I'd be appearing exceptionally spent even before starting to spend the evening and next day with the in-laws-to-be, another hour south.

A tall English woman greeted us with open arms, beside the girl of my son's dreams.

“Come in, come in,” she said warmly.  “We’re about to have dinner and crackers in the dining room.”

Instead of an array of thin wheat crisps beside bits of Brie and cheddar I  saw nine splendid table settings, each topped with a small tube-shaped present in colorful cellophane and ribbon. They looked like oversized pieces of wrapped candy. 

“Do you know what crackers are?” my future daughter-in-law  asked, the excitement apparent in her voice.

“I’ve seen them” I began as I picked up the party favor by my plate. “I think I have a box of them at home, “ I added, picturing the collection of unopened Christmas paraphernalia in my basement. “But I never . . .”

“We’ll show you,” piped in every other adult in the room, sounding as giddy as my young grandchildren had, earlier in the day. In pairs, the adults each grabbed one end of a shared cracker – and pulled. Popping sounds and a very faint scent of something burning floated in the air. Laughter followed as a few busy hands shook the contents of the broken cylinder on to their plate. Only those left with the heavier side of the cracker got the loot. For these lucky ones who held the treat-filled chamber, out fell a tiny whistle or plastic toy (the content of crackers are not suitable for children ages three and under) and bits of paper.

“What did you get?” the prize-less adults asked. Then, with a visible sense of purpose, the winning half went on to unfold the tissue papers that had fallen out of the crackers. Each piece opened up into a thin tissue-paper crown, which the “unfolder” immediately placed on his or her head, giving each, from the diners in their thirties to the diner in his eighties, a look of childish delight.

Five unpopped crackers remained (for, remember, it takes two people to pull a single cracker open). “Now it’s your turn with the rest of us,” the hostess said to my son and me. And within a few moments there ensued five more tiny explosions (similar to the sound and smell of a cap gun going off), five more tiny toys being examined, five more paper crowns to top the remaining undecorated heads, and at least five times more laughter than through the first round of crackers.

Still, the fun wasn’t over, for each cracker had also released another piece of paper with a joke of sorts.  Traditionally, a pretty cheesy one at that. 

            Why was the turkey asked to join the band? (Because he was the only one with a drumstick)

            What did Adam say the night before Christmas? (It’s Christmas Eve)

            And my personal favorite: I bought my friend Mary Berry's cookbook for Christmas. I tried to get Paul Hollywood's but he'd sold out. (OK, I admit I found that one on the Internet!)

After a very long day of visiting and traveling my son and I had been somehow revived by a gracious gift of hospitality which invited us to crown ourselves part of this wonderful family. What a special introduction to their traditions that would continue for us that night, in this  out-of-town manger of sorts : the games, the puzzle-building,  and the anticipation of a wedding in the New Year to come.

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