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The lights on the bedecked Christmas tree flashed sporadically, reds, greens, blues and golds briefly illuminating glittering baubles and gaudy ornaments. The end of a line of tinsel slipped from its branch and trailed despondently towards the floor, its fate unnoticed by the boisterous family crowding around the too small dining table.

At one end of the table, in an old carver chair, sat a white haired lady, smiling benignly at the two excited children. She carefully lifted a half empty glass of sherry to her lips and took a large sip. Her paper hat teetered on her coiffured hair, threatening to fall to the ground at any moment. She appeared not to notice.

At the other end of the table sat her husband, watching with amusement as his wife's nose grew steadily redder. His hand shot out and grabbed a rubber ball erratically thrown by his young grandson, preventing it from crashing into the display cabinet behind him. The boy slumped in his seat, sighing with relief. The grandad tipped him a wink and chuckled.

'Dinner is served!' announced his daughter, struggling through the door with the roast on an overloaded platter.

Grandad leapt to his feet and helped her manoeuvre the feast onto the already groaning table. Everyone cheered and clapped, except for the boy. He had little interest in the fuss and bother of the feast, the carving, the lengthy process of serving the multiple vegetables. All he was interested in was the crackers.

While the adults fussed over the dinner, he surreptitiously picked up his cracker and gave it a little shake, trying to guess from the rattle what might be inside. His grandad settled down in his seat and smiled.

Plates were passed, brussel sprouts served and grumbled about, the best roast potatoes were squabbled over and the gravy boat was speedily drained and refilled. The boy attacked his dinner, gobbling it down as fast as he could.

'Good grief, Jake! Slow down before you choke yourself!' said his mother.

Grandad grinned. 'The boy wants to pull his cracker.'

'Well, he has to wait, don't you Jake?' said his father. 'We don't pull them until everyone has finished their mains.'

Jake sighed, looking around the table at the laden plates. His grandma was picking away at a very small potato, cutting into tiny pieces which she slowly nibbled. Jake closed his eyes. Grandma always ate so slowly.

Grandad looked down the table at his wife and scowled. 'Come along, dear! It's going to take you all day to eat it at that rate.'

His wife glared at him, but then caught his conspiratorial look at their grandson. She smiled and leaned forwards to pat Jake's hand. 'I'm sorry, my love. I'll try to speed up a little.'

On the opposite side of the table, Jake's sister Erin was playing with her new phone. She paused occasionally to take another forkful of dinner, but progress was painstaking. Their mother, following Jake's despairing gaze, shook her head.

'Erin, put your phone away for now. You can play with it all you like after dinner.'

'Oh mum!'

'It's rude to play with your phone at the table. Put it away.'

Jake watched as Erin reluctantly slid her phone into her pocket and at last turned her attention to her dinner.

'More potatoes, Dad?' asked his mother.

Grandad eyed the potatoes eagerly, then saw the look on Jake's face and sat back, patting his stomach. 'No thank you. I've eaten more than enough. Absolutely delicious!'

He looked at the crackers and tapped his fingers on the table. It seemed a shame not to pull them at the start of the meal, but he had to respect his son-in-law's rules. Jake's plate was empty, pushed forwards pointedly.

Gradually the other plates were cleared, seconds dished out, drinks supped and sprouts skilfully avoided. Jake was bouncing in his chair, eyes darting from his cracker to his fellow diners, willing them to hurry up.

At last, the table was cleared. After a brief pause, the son-in-law announced it was cracker time. Jake sprang forwards, snatching up his cracker and hunting for somebody to pull it with. Grandad stretched his arm down the table and took hold of the other end, caught Jake's eye, and shouted 'pull!'

The cracker split, its folded paper hat tumbling out and landing in Grandma's sherry. The motto floated down, and a miniature pack of cards dropped onto the table. But then a small present fell out. Grandad leaned back and watched as Jake wrestled away the tape.

He peeled away the paper and stared, open-mouthed. 'Lego Ninjago!'

'What?' his mother stared at the present, then looked back at her own cracker. She tipped it up and out tumbled a tiny present, neatly wrapped in Christmas paper. All around the table the family were exclaiming over unexpected gifts.

Grandma was delighted when her broken engagement ring, fully restored and cleaned, tumbled from her cracker. Erin cooed over a crystal mobile phone charm. The children's father was playing with a multi tool keyring and their mother was admiring a pair of earrings. Grandad sat back in his chair, enjoying the family's surprise.

'I don't understand,' said his daughter. 'I just bought these from the supermarket yesterday.' Grandad preened. She stared at him. 'You did it? How did you sneak these presents in?'

But Grandad refused to explain, grinning delightedly. Grandma nodded at him. 'You haven't pulled yours yet.'

'Well this is just an ordinary cracker. I wanted to see you all pull yours.'

'Well, now you've seen. Pull your cracker.'

Grandad picked up his cracker and waved the other end at Erin. 'Pull!' The cracker snapped and out tumbled the paper hat and a packet of miniature screwdrivers. He shook the motto out and adjusted his glasses to read it.

'Wait!' said Erin, peering into her end of the cracker. 'There's something in here.'

Grandad looked up as she shook out a tiny present. 'What?'

Grandma leaned back and drained her sherry.

He unwrapped the present, a frown creasing his brow. 'But … but these … these are my Dad's silver cufflinks! They were stolen years ago!' He stared down the table at his wife. She smiled serenely. 'Where on earth did you find them?'

'Well, you know I did that computing course at night school, you know, the one you said was a waste of time?'

'What does that have to do with Dad's cufflinks?'

'Well, the instructor was telling us about a website run by the police where they have photos of all the goods they've recovered. I had a little look and there were your Dad's cufflinks.'

Grandad blinked back tears as he looked down at the small box. 'You sneaky old stick!'

'Huh! You can talk!' she said, looking down at her engagement ring. She raised her freshly recharged glass. 'Merry Christmas, old thing!'


© 2012 Kay Lawrence.

line Big Sis
29th November 2012

I want that Christmas! Lovely chrimbo story. Now I feel in the mood for a big family party! Best hope one of the men has thought to ask Santa for snow chains!


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