My maternal grandfather's family always had Christmas crackers. We had to pull the crackers before dinner and wear the silly paper hats that were inside. The hats never stayed on! Every time you bent or moved your head they fell off on the floor - or more often than not - into the food. If the hats got wet (from falling in the food) the dye would run and make a terrible mess! By the end of the meal no one was wearing them! We all hated them - but we kept buying them every year because it was a tradition!
Well, that tradition came to an end for our family in the late 1960's. One year we couldn't find any or the Christmas Crackers. We had left it too late and by the time we remembered we couldn't find any. We decided that this was actually a good thing and that it was time to start a new tradition.
We would make place cards for everyone instead.
The designs started out very simple. The first year, we made napkin rings. We cut cylinders of paper towel tubes into short pieces and covered each with coloured foil. We wrote each name on a white sticker in red or green ink and then rolled a napkin to go in each piece.
Some designs were more elaborate than others. Some we started working on weeks in advance and others were done a day or two before Christmas.
One year, we used the pointed ice cream cones and iced each with green icing. We stood them pointy end up and decorated each with candy sprinkles so that there was a Christmas tree at every place. We used egg cartons and straws to make mini sleighs another year.
One year I made red pom poms and placed each on a cloud of cotton baton. Each pom pom had eyes, nose and mouth. I found the mini black top hats and the white earmuffs at a craft supply store. These were pretty easy to do to:
The napkin snowmen were a last minute idea. We took red napkins, cotton baton and bits of yarn to make these simple place cards:
Some of the ideas were very simple and easy to do. We purchased plain, mini jewelery boxes from a craft supply store. The bottom half were already gold so we just "wrapped the tops with coloured foils and used Christmas ribbons and bows to accent. Inside the boxes, we places after dinner mints.I used to make a German Christmas cookie called "Peppernuts". One year, I decided to make small gift bags of these for each place card. I cut circles of fancy Christmas fabric and tied them up with ribbon:
These snow people were a collaborative effort between mom and I. I made all the pom pom snow people and did the faces and buttons. I made the felt bases with a little cotton baton to set them on. Mom knit all the tiny scarves and toques!
One year, mom spent hours making these cross stitch mailboxes:
Other family members have also made the place cards over the years. There have been angels made of cotton and lace; decorated cookies with our names on them and many more. Everyone always looked forward to seeing what the next year's design would be. There have been Santa's, snowmen, angels, reindeer, sleighs, bells, trees and many other designs. Some were edible, but most were meant to be used as ornaments in coming years.
I wish we had taken pictures of all the designs that were made over the years. A few years ago, mom and I went through the old photos and found many of the designs - but not all. I do know that we never repeated the exact same design in all the years that we did them! I still have several of these Christmas place cards. I put some on my tree and some around the apartment. They hold special memories in my heart and mind.
The tradition continued until a few years ago. After my dad died in 2003, my mom quit having Christmas at the farm. It just wasn't the same without him there and it was way to much work for mom. Some of the family still get together at Christmas, but with each passing generation, the younger families are creating their own new traditions to pass on to their children and grandchildren.