What a stunning day out today. I couldn't bear to work the whole day through so I stopped to take a few pics of the sunflowers, beans and verbena but just as I was grabbing the camera...look who came to visit?! Mother only brought one baby and I haven't seen the two babes together for about 6 weeks so one has to wonder if the second one survived. It was very healthy looking but life in the woods has its sad realities. I was delighted to see them again today. Mom was not thrilled with me taking so many pictures and decided to 'hi-tail' it out of there and over the railway tracks!PS: Yes, those sunflowers ARE planted in what you think they are!
These crackers were shown in the Nerlich Catalogue in 1939. I would think this was the end of the really wonderful crackers. Although they do still have a remnant of elegance about them, the contents clearly show the beginning of mass production with ads emphasizing the 'look' rather than the 'content' of the crackers. So.. it was about HERE when the problems began! :)
If you look in the right hand column of this blog you will see some pages listed. One of them is for posting the annual Elf-Food Prep recipes which I will be adding soon. Feel free to share the recipes and give them a try! The first ones will my favourite autumn muffins.
Charles Dickens did so much to capture and shape the Victorian Christmas spirit and continues to this very day to influence the modern holiday celebration through his Christmas-themed novels and, in particularly, the best-known and most-loved one of all - "The Christmas Carol". In 1898, Dickens' wrote the following review of the then most popular trend of Christmas crackers. It is rather long and flowery so I am paraphrasing for you here but, if interested, please do read the full account following.
You frequently hear me moaning about how awful (in my opinion) the commercial crackers have been for years now - pretty on the outside but empty of anything except poor jokes, plain hats and plastic or metal gizmos. Dickens, in his time which was the heyday of crackers, had the opposite to say noting how improved crackers had become - no longer merely candy and mottoes wrapped in twists of paper with uncertain snaps (sometimes these used to set tablecloths on fire!): "But the cracker of other days was but a small affair after all, wrapped up in what seemed like scraps of coloured wall-paper. It often missed fire, and there was nothing within but a bonbon - "pas trop bon " - and a scrap of doggrel...". It seems we have come full circle?! Ever the ladies' man, Dickens described the cracker work force: " ... a throng of girls, nicely dressed, and by no means wanting in personal attractions, who are all busily making crackers."
The working conditions sound a bit more idealized than the GillianCrackers Workshop: " It is a charming employment for young women, this making of crackers - everything is clean, and dainty, and pretty about them; there are no noxious fumes or extremes of temperature [my elf staff would disagree with that!]to contend with; and it is a labour light and pleasant, to which the nimble fingers alone are wedded, and which leaves the mind free and unruffled" Well, I guess maybe...
Then Dickens quotes cracker-maker Tom Smith: "...there is an immensity of detail about this business". Yes, there are cares upon cares in catering for the amusement of a volatile public - to keep up the supply of novelties and devise always something fresh and taking to pass within the narrow round of a Christmas cracker". Yes, well now, that sounds a bit more like it. Both are true - 'a labour light' and 'the immensity of detail with cares upon cares'!
My favourite phrase Dickens offered was in his description of the Tom Smith workplace as "this factory of fairy trinkets". How lovely! And the most inspiring was the description of the cracker contents: "...all the distinguished head-gear of the British army... the lancer's complicated cap, the helmet and nodding plume of the gold dragoon. For young gamesters there are cards and dice, tops that spin and sing, and little toys of every description. It would be easier, indeed, to set forth what is not, than what is to be found in these wonderful [toy] storerooms". And: "... a doctor's hood and gown... a jester's cap and bells; or a terrier pup, in china; or a balloon, or Professor Baldwin's latest parachute..." Can you imagine the fun and anticipation of opening crackers such as these?!
So intrinsic were crackers to the Victorian Christmas celebration that advertising for them was found everywhere. Dickens described this: " announced on every hoarding, on the walls of railways stations, in the corridors of hotels and public buildings. Wherever you go you can hardly fail to meet with a reminder of the coming glories of [Christmas] crackers". Oh, don't I wish this were still true though Google, Bing & Yahoo are surely doing their bit in this regard! I have for years now been offering crackers as 'ice-breakers' at family reunions and in places where people who don't know one another well are meeting for long periods of time - intense periods of conferencing, for instance. Dickens describes this: "...where the box of crackers infuses a new spirit into the assemblage." Thank you Mr. Dickens - May I borrow that line?
In closing he says, "Such pleasure as the cracker may bring us, is altogether pure and unalloyed, and it may be that you will preserve some little toy or trinket as a souvenir of some of the happiest moments of your life."
Reference: "All The Year Round" Conducted by Charles Dickens December 15, 1898
This publication edited by Charles Dickens until his death in 1870 was then carried on by his son, Charles Dickens, Jr, until 1988 or possibly even until 1895. It is unclear, but this cracker article above is thought to be written by Dickens, Sr. and published posthumously. Click on the READ MORE button below to the left to view the remainder of this article. ♥♥
Here is an extensive Christmas cracker ad from the old Timothy Eaton's Dept Store. 15 cents to $1.50 per box? Well, admittedly prices have gone up in 100 years! Notice the heading, "Observe the Prices"!
It's too bad the crackers here weren't presented with better descriptive text in the ad copy but I do like some of the design titles; the box of puzzle crackers being called: "The Jolly Jokers Crackers", for instance. Mmmmm could I borrow that name... The cracker pictured in the ad is quite pretty and festive - I remember a less fancy version of the fluted edges being widely available even in the 1950's when crackers were often made with stretchy crepe paper.
As with GillianCrackers some selections included musical toys. The remembrance crackers are a bit of a mystery; they contain 'fancy luggage' - I have trouble packing handbells into tubes - not sure how packing luggage in would go! "Fancy toy jewels" seemed to be a common component of many of the early cracker varieties.
An interesting bit of ephemera and a welcome addition to this blog.
This morning I whipped up a popcorn garland to test the bits and pieces that I have gathered for our Popcorn & Cranberry DIY Garland Kits. Everything tests well though I am thinking of using thinner twine and slightly smaller needles so they pass more easily through the popcorn. I also want to include a second needle so that two people can work together - each from the opposite end or... the twine could be cut in half. These were even more fun to make than I thought they would be and I just can't wait for you to try them out!
At the moment it looks as if the kits will contain the following:
20 feet of twine 2 needles 25 or more little puff balls or other dear small bits of festive colour 1 pkg of microwavable popcorn 1 small packet of dried cranberries 1 little packet of kleenex ( to wipe sticky fingers! )
1 Garland Kit is included FREE (wow!) with each order of 5 or more Christmas Eve Crackers or they can be purchased separately for $4.50 per kit.
Idea: When you write your Christmas cards this year for mailing, how about finding a brown envelope, addressing it as you would the card, then drop in both the kit and the card. What a fun & inexpensive way to say "Merry Christmas!"
This is the first year for the kits - they will be very limited. As the business doesn't make a profit on these, I can't afford to have the other elves make them up for me... so, there will only be available however many kits I can make up in one work day. ORDER EARLY!!
Now... look down below a couple of pictures to see who visited me today while I sat on the porch threading popcorn ...
Just never know who is going to turn up at the workshop
as I sat making crackers for you out on the garden porch who appeared? Yes, WILD TURKEYS! These guys walked within a couple of feet of where I was sitting but by the time I grabbed a camera, they were already off and running looking for lunch further along... so, no closeup portraits this time but I will keep an eye out for you!
from your Chief Cracker Elf,
PS: It's looking like beans again for dinner tonight at the Workshop! The bees and the humming birds LOVE these scarlet runner bean vines. This week the vines have been producing about 1 pound of beans every day.