‘Pink 403,’ sighed the vicar as he read out the fifteenth ticket in the Christmas raffle. Given that the average age of the people checking their tickets was about ninety-six they weren’t doing so bad, but still, the vicar was beginning to feel it now. Patience is a virtue though, he kept telling himself, although this wasn’t helping too much.
‘Ooh yes,’ shouted a woman in her fifties dressed in a heavily floral patterned dress. ‘It’s me, I’ve got it. Hold on, I’m coming.’ A ripple of applause spread through the room which had about thirty people in it. She had a look of surprise mixed with wonder as she moved amongst the tables and it was as if she had just won the Best Actress Oscar. ‘I say, Philip, I never win anything. I can’t believe it,’ she said to the vicar as she approached him at the front.
‘Don’t get your hopes up, Mrs Kelly,’ muttered the vicar, ‘it’s one of the last prizes, I’m afraid.’
‘For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly grateful,’ said Mrs Kelly as she winked at the vicar.
‘Quite, but like I say, these are truly awful,’ grimaced the vicar. ‘They were brought in by an old chap yesterday. He told Eileen that he’d made them himself and he wished for them to be added to the raffle. Eileen only really took them off him because she didn’t want to disappoint him. Here you go, it’s these crackers.’ The vicar reached around to the table behind him and revealed a plain cardboard box with twelve crackers all lined up inside.
‘Crackers?’ said Mrs Kelly with glee. ‘I haven’t bought any yet, these’ll do fine. It’ll be a nice surprise on Christmas Day to see what the old boy’s put in them.’
‘You’ve been warned, Mrs Kelly, that’s all I’m saying,’ said the vicar who was already rummaging into the fruit bowl of raffle tickets for the next one.
Mrs Kelly walked back to where she was sitting and peered into the cardboard box which smelled a little damp. The crackers were made using toilet rolls and wrapping paper. They didn’t look like they’d have much of a bang but it was the thought that counts. She was just about to put the box on the floor next to her feet when she noticed a small piece of paper underneath them, at the bottom of the box.
She reached in and pulled out a piece of torn wrapping paper which had some writing on it. The first thing she noticed was that the handwriting was beautiful, and she immediately thought that the old man must have been a professional in his former life, perhaps a barrister. Mrs Kelly thinks that everyone who has a profession must be a nice person and so she instantly took a shine to the donor.
‘May you find your dreams by pulling at me, It’s at Christmas time when we finally see.’
On Christmas Day the entire family were round Mrs Kelly’s house for the much anticipated Christmas lunch. Her son, Chris, was there with his girlfriend, Rebecca, and also Chris’ friend Rob had pitched up as usual. Her husband Frank was at the head of the table, stood up with a knife in his hand.
‘Ee, ee, ee,’ he joked pretending to act out the shower scene from Psycho.
‘Frank,’ shouted Mrs Kelly, ‘not today. Do we have to be party to that impression every year? It’s Christmas, when we should be rejoicing Jesus and appreciating what we have, not laughing at serial killers.’ Frank quietened down even though all of the others still smiled at him. ‘Anyway,’ continued Mrs Kelly, ‘I’ve got a surprise for everyone. Hang on a minute, I’ve put them on top of the cupboard in the kitchen.’ She bustled out of the room.
‘It’ll be the crackers,’ said Chris to Rebecca. ‘She does it every year, as if we’re all going to be completely surprised by them.’
‘Right then,’ announced Mrs Kelly as she appeared again. ‘What have I got here then?’ She put the cardboard box on the seat behind her and started handing out the crackers.
‘What are these?’ scoffed Chris. ‘Don’t tell me that you’ve started making them yourself. God, this is awful.’
‘Don’t blaspheme, especially not at the table. Frank do something about him.’
‘You heard what your mother said,’ grunted Frank at the end of the table.
‘Besides,’ continued Mrs Kelly, ‘I didn’t make them myself, I actually won them at the church raffle instead. Some kind gentleman donated them to the church and I’m extremely glad that they’re now going to bless our family day.’
‘Oh, great,’ said Chris again, raising his eyebrows. ‘Let’s get on with it then.’
‘How about we do the old armlock technique?’ suggested Rob. They all began crossing their arms and eventually formed a cracker chain all around the table.
‘Ok,’ said Chris, ‘ready? One, two, three… pull.’
An anti-climatic tear could be heard circling the table accompanied by sounds of derision from the younger contingent. Frank just looked up at the ceiling and then concentrated back down at his food.
‘Ooh, look,’ said Mrs Kelly excitedly. ‘There seems to be something in mine.’
‘At least there aren’t any hats,’ said Chris, ‘so that’s a good thing.’
‘It’s a bit of paper,’ said Mrs Kelly and she eagerly pulled it out. ‘It might be a joke, that would be nice. Ah, bless him, look at his handwriting, isn’t that wonderful? Frank, I said, isn’t that wonderful?’
‘Yes love,’ agreed Frank.
‘Now, where are my readers?’ said Mrs Kelly to herself.
‘They’re round your neck, Mum,’ said Chris shaking his head. ‘So, have we all got a joke inside? Where’s mine?’
They all began inspecting the insides of their crackers and, one after another, each of them pulled out a piece of paper.
‘Jesus Christ!’ exclaimed Rob at the top of his voice.
‘Robert,’ shouted Mrs Kelly, ‘in this house we have rules, young man. You’ll do well to remember them.’
‘Sorry Mrs Kelly, but are these crackers for real? What have you got, Chris?’
‘It must be a joke or something,’ said Chris, ‘I’ve got a cheque here for twenty thousand pounds and it’s not addressed to anyone. Just blank.’
‘So have I,’ said Rob.
‘And me,’ said Rebecca.
‘Oh my goodness,’ shrieked Mrs Kelly putting her hand to her mouth. ‘This can’t be true.’
‘Where did you get these from again?’ asked Frank, suddenly interested in something rather than his dinner plate.
‘The church raffle, Philip said that an old man had dropped them off.’
‘Who was he?’
‘I don’t know, they didn’t know him either, just an old man who they pitied really. I don’t know anything about him.’
‘So, let me get this straight,’ said Chris, ‘we’ve all got a cheque for twenty thousand pounds? Is that right?’ Everyone nodded. ‘Hang on, how many more of these have you got in the box?’
‘One, two, three,’ counted Mrs Kelly, ‘seven. Yes, there’s seven left. Do you think they’ve all got something in?’
‘Only one way to check,’ said Chris, diving for the box. They all helped open up the remaining crackers and found that they all contained a twenty thousand pound cheque as well.
Some Christmases seem to go by much like the others that preceded it. It can be hard to differentiate between similar events when looking back through a twenty year lens. But, to the Kelly family and close friends, that year’s Christmas has always stood out. It was the one that reminded each of them about the spirit of generosity and, for every Christmas since, the people around that table have always remembered this gift.
All of their lives changed for the better after that day and, since then, the joy that they’ve in turn brought to others is too much to be measured by mere financial gain. But who was the old man who happened to walk into a dusty church with two hundred and forty thousand pounds worth of prizes?
If you knew, would it change your opinion of him and what he did for this normal family? If the Kelly family knew, which incidentally they never did, then would they not have echoed the feelings of generosity to everyone they ever crossed? I think so, and that’s why some stories are better left untold.