Crackers are great things to use in visual aids at Christmas,
because they're really versatile. They're fun, they allow the children to
participate, you can hide things inside, and (possibly best of all) you can use
them for virtually any Christmas Day sermon!
So although I have
suggested using Luke 2:8-20 (the story of the shepherds) you could just as
easily use crackers to illustrate Matthew's account of the Magi's visit, or
Isaiah's prophecy of the Messiah - just use your imagination.
Making the cracker
You need a lot of bits of wood for this one. It helps if you are
the sort of bloke (and it really is only blokes who are of this sort) who
enjoys pulling bits of wood out of skips and storing them in your shed or
garage. Otherwise you will be spending a fortune down at your local timber
merchants. So this is what you need (makes one cracker, as they say in the
- 12 bits of wood about 35x12mm and 400mm long
- 6 bits of wood about 35x12mm and 700mm long
- 6 bits of wood about 35x12mm and 1000mm long
- a 1200 x 600mm bit of 4mm thick MDF
- a broom handle or similar, about 25mm diameter and 1220mm
- another broom handle about 25mm diameter and 1520mm long.
Actually it's likely that this will not be a broom handle at all, unless you
are very tall and have brooms made specially for you.
- some panel pins
- wood glue
- an understanding wife (not essential for making visual aids,
but it is my personal recommendation)
- a shed or garage. You will probably end up making these when it
is cold and dark outside and although you could use a security light to see by
and a patio heater to keep you warm, you will have the Archbishop of Canterbury
down on you like a ton of bricks.
- Lots of coloured paper. I use "fadeless art paper" made by the
Corporation - an American company - and sold by various firms over the
internet (search for "fadeless art paper").
The sizes of the bits of wood are not super-critical and if you
have retrieved different sized pieces of wood from your local skips you can
adjust the cracker size accordingly. Two of these crackers will fit in a VW
Polo, if you fold the back seats down. There's also room for the driver and one
(1) The first thing to do is to make the end of
the longer broom handle a bit pointy, so it's easier to guide it into holes.
Put both broom handles on the floor.
(2) Then cut out eight circles of
MDF. You need six circles 300mm diameter and two circles 280mm diameter. Two of
the big circles and one of the smaller circles need D shapes cut out so you can
get inside the cracker later. Leave a 65mm wide strip up the middle. Drill 25mm
diameter holes just above and below the centres of the circles, as shown in the
picture. For the circles with two holes, make the lower one a touch larger -
about 27mm. You'll find that it's very difficult to cut out neat circles with a
jigsaw. There again, it's even harder without one.
(3) Fix the circles
of MDF to the broom handles. On the short broom handle the circles need to be
150mm, 400mm and 500mm from the left hand end, with another just in from the
right hand end. On the long broom handle the circles need to be 150mm, 400mm,
500mm and 750mm from the right hand end. At this stage the whole thing is
(4) Glue the bits of wood to the MDF circles as
shown. On the middle section the yellow part will slide into the orange part,
and you have to make sure the bits of wood don't bang into each other. So put
the yellow (inner) bits in between the orange (outer) bits, like
It helps to fix the bits of wood in place with panel pins
while the glue dries. Be careful to put the panel pins in square and in the
middle of the MDF or they will poke out and injure small children. The panel
pins will split the MDF a bit but this doesn't really matter.
By now the
cracker will have progressed from alarmingly wobbly to more wobbly than you
would like. This is an improvement, but to reach the ultimate goal of not at
all wobbly you will need to nail in some diagonal bits of wood, like
As I have only now remembered to draw these diagonal bits,
they don't appear in the main pictures. You'll need them to the left of circles
2 and 6, and to the right of circles 3 and 7.
(5) The worst is over. You
can slide the two bits of cracker together now.
(6) shows them a bit
(7) ...closer still...
(9) I am sure you have the idea by now, but still I continue
to produce these pictures.
(10) Docking is complete.
them apart again, and repeat until the novelty wears off.
some bits of paper between circles 2 and 3, and between 6 and 7, in order to
hide the broom handles and provide that essential cracker
(13) Now wrap the wooden frames with more paper, holding it
in place with staples. At this point I discovered that, despite having three
staple guns and several boxes of staples, none of the staples would fit any of
the staple guns. How did that happen?
(14) Add some kind of picture to
the cracker (the one in the picture is
St James' Muswell
Hill's logo), put gifts, funny hats, sermon points etc in the left hand
(15) assemble the cracker.
(16) and (17) are real
photos. The cracker was a bit bashed about over Christmas, so it looks a bit
It's vital, if you have a talk that uses two or more crackers, to
identify which is which. Otherwise you will get your points in the wrong order,
you will have to say, "I have made the most terrible mistake" and start all
The Christmas talk
You may remember (it was some time ago now) that I said you could
use crackers to illustrate
Luke 2:8-20. This is how I did it:
Firstly, I made
three crackers and covered them with white paper. Then I covered the ends and
the outer bit in the middle with cotton wool. Amusingly, the cotton wool flew
off the crackers and landed all over the house, even though they were in a room
on their own with the door shut.
I identified the three crackers using
the three pictures in
stuck on circles of white card.
Every cracker should contain a funny hat
(easy to make from crêpe paper), a gift, a joke and - in the case of
Christmas sermon crackers anyway - a message. The gifts (very appropriate for
- a jar of mint sauce
- a sheep bell (bought from
BHV on the corner of Rue de Rivoli and Rue des Archives in
Paris. It's the best hardware store I've ever been in, but it's a long way to
go to buy a sheep bell.)
- a calendar - made using the same pictures that were on the
The jokes were up to the normal standard of cracker jokes, and all
had a sheep/shepherd theme:
- What's a sheep's favourite sort of party? A baaaabecue!
- Why didn't the sheep write to his mother? Because he had no ink
in his pen!
- What would you call James Bond if he kept sheep? A shepherd
The congregation had to shout "Baaa!" when each cracker was
pulled, we had a bit of fun with the hats, the gifts and the jokes, and then we
unrolled the message from each cracker. These were written on bits of paper
about 4m long. We pinned them up across the church and read them out together.
Based on what Luke tells us the shepherds heard, said and did, the messages
- Today, in the town of David, a Saviour has been born.
- Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has
- The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God.
The first is the message of Christmas: a Saviour has been born.
The second shows that the shepherds, when they heard this, didn't just ignore
it - they went to find Jesus. And the third tells us that they praised God
because of what they had learned.
And that's what we should do: in
response to the Christmas message, run to Jesus straight away, and praise God
for what he has done.
These yellow and orange crackers were made for my
friend John Paul (now a minister in Bologna, in Italy). He spoke on the wise
men's visit to Jesus in
Matthew 2:1-12. He had only two points (which at least
ruled out the "why are these crackers so big? because they're three king size
crackers!" joke). The messages inside the crackers reflected responses then and
now to Jesus. Not wanted was the response of Herod, and many people
today. But the right response to Jesus is to worship him. That's what
the wise men did, and that's what we should do too.