It’s not a proper holiday party unless I’m wearing a paper crown on my head. The odd joke, a fun gift, and a popping good snap also ring in a good time around my dinner table. This may sound a little strange to readers not familiar with the history of Christmas crackers, but for those in the know, there’s a lot of frugal fun to be had with these noisy little parcels.

The problem with most holiday crackers sold today is they are stuffed with cheap toys and crappy prizes. A decent set can cost you over $50 for 8 crackers, and the gifts inside are still throw-away trinkets.

It’s a snap to make your own crackers, and filling them with personalized messages, thoughtful gifts, and festive paper hats is easy — you probably have many of the materials at home already.

Stuff you’ll need:

  • Festive paper
  • Toilet paper tubes (1 per cracker)
  • Cracker snaps (1 per cracker)
  • Ribbon
  • Tape, glue gun, or glue stick
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Tissue paper (for paper hats)
  • Joke, quote, or riddle
  • Present or prize
  • Candy (yum)

Total Cost: I’m a sneaky sneaker, so I reused most of my gear from last year. Cracker snaps cost around $5 (or less) at craft stores for a package of 25 snaps. Small quality gifts can be purchased anywhere (even at dollar stores), and crackers used as presents can cost whatever your heart desires. Stick a diamond ring in there for a ‘pop the question’ proposal cracker, and we’re talking thousands. Or add a homemade ornament to each cracker and the cost is only your time.

The trick with homemade crackers is they can be used for a variety of occasions: birthdays, weddings, New Year’s Eve, and even as present toppers or festive table decorations. If Christmas isn’t your thing, then get cracking with other ways to make this fun and frugal project a part of your next party.

Here’s how to make your own party crackers:

Step One: Cut your cracker paper

Your choice of paper can make or break your cracker budget. Thick and opulent papers cost more, while thinner, less fancy wrapping papers cost less. Reusing last year’s unwrinkled gift wrap is free.

The size of your paper depends on the length and width of three toilet paper tubes. Classy, I know.

Lay three tubes side-by-side and measure. My tubes measure 12″ x 6″ (~30.5cm x 15cm) — enough paper for a little overlap when wrapped. Cut as many cracker sheets as you have guests.

Tip: Be sure to use cracker snaps measuring the same length as your toilet paper tubes. If your snaps are too short, it’s hard for your guests to grab a snapper end and achieve a pop.

Step Two: Roll your party cracker

Tape or glue your cracker snap into the central tube.

On the wrong side of your cracker paper, place a piece of tape along the outside of your center tube. If your paper is thick, you may need to use a crafting glue gun to properly seal your cracker. Press taped/glued edge of tube neatly down along the paper.

Align two more tubes on either end of the center tube with the snap neatly placed inside. These extra tubes help you roll a neat and pretty party cracker.

Glue, or stick three pieces of tape along the opposite edge of the wrapping paper. Roll the tubes, and seal it shut to the paper.

Tip: Do not tape or glue your end tubes to your cracker paper. The outside tubes are used to keep your cracker ends looking perfect, and will be removed later.

Step Three: Make a paper hat (optional)

Christmas crackers traditionally contain a colorful paper crown or hat. Making a paper hat is simple, you need: tissue paper, a pair of scissors, and some tape.

How to make a paper hat:

  1. Cut a strip of tissue paper to measure 3 1/2″ x 24″ (9cm x 60cm).
  2. Tape short edges together with double-sided tape.
  3. Fold in half, create a solid crease.
  4. Fold in half a second time, create a solid crease.
  5. Fold in half a third time, crease it again.
  6. Using scissors, cut one edge at an angle.
  7. Open to inspect paper crown.
  8. Repeat for each party cracker.

Step Four: Fill your crackers

We’ll get to the gift ideas in a sec, but first you’ll need to close one end of your cracker to keep the goodies inside.

How to close a cracker end:

  1. Slide out one end tube to create a small 1/4″ gap between it and the center tube.
  2. Use your fingers to make a neat crease in the gap.
  3. Wrap a piece of ribbon or string around the gap. Tie a bow or use your preferred decorative flourish to finish the ribbon.

Tip: Do not remove the end tube, yet. Keep the tube in place to keep your cracker paper uncreased.

Create cracker jokes:

Cracker jokes are a big part of the fun. Most jokes are terrible groaners, but they can make for a great dinner icebreaker while giving your guests a good laugh. Find your Christmas cracker jokes here, print or write them out, and then cut them to a small size.

Find frugal cracker gifts:

Fold a tiny origami ornament, insert a tiny toy, or add a tasty homemade treat to sweeten the deal. Other frugal gifts ideas include: re-gifting items you won’t use, quality dollar store finds (I found a camera tripod), and homemade crafts, delicious teas, toys, or games. A tiny deck of cards is always fun for kids to play with after dessert is served.

Or make the cracker the gift itself by adding a piece of jewelry, a gift card, or a gift certificate from a favorite store. Want to propose this holiday season? Make a romantic wedding cracker.

Fill the open cracker end with a gift, a paper hat (crown), candy, and a joke.

This is the fun part, so use your creativity to customize each cracker for a specific guest. I’m putting a Bear Safety Hiking Bell in Carl’s cracker this year — we have a bear den near our home. 🙂

Step Five: Decorate your party cracker

Close the final cracker end using the tips from Step Four. Use crafting stamps, stickers, or a width of gift wrap to add a few finishing touches to your cracker.

Carefully remove the cracker end tubes. Be careful not to remove your cracker snap.

Put your festive holiday crackers on presents or set them at the dinner table for decoration, and watch the frugal holiday fun unfold.

More Holiday Fun:

Squawkback: Are party crackers a part of your family tradition?