What’s the History of Crackers at Christmas?
Christmas crackers have long been a tradition and a part of Christmas. But do we actually know why we pull a cracker, wear a hat, tell a bad joke and receive a small gift? So where did this Christmas necessity come from? And, what is the history of Christmas crackers?
What are Christmas Crackers?
Christmas crackers are a British heritage dating back to Victorian times. And a traditional Christmas cracker is actually very simple.
A cracker is made of cardboard and in the shape of a tube twisted at both ends, usually containing a small gift, paper hat and a joke. Two people then pull the cracker which makes a ‘pop’ and the contents of the cracker falls out.
Christmas crackers are used on Christmas Day, placed next to each plate at the dinner table. You could even go as far as saying, along with the Christmas turkey, the table would not be complete without a cracker at each place setting.
Due to its British heritage, crackers are not widely popular outside of the UK. In fact, if you ask someone about Christmas crackers, it is likely that you will be misunderstood for cheese and crackers.
The Origin of Christmas Crackers – Who Invented Them?
Tom Smith is the name to remember here. He was a British baker and confectioner. Back in the Victorian era, in 1847, a visit to Paris is what inspired his idea. It was a simple bonbon, a sugared almond, wrapped in a paper tissue and twisted at both ends which inspired Tom Smith.
And, 150 years later this tradition is still going strong. So, let’s discover the history of Christmas crackers.
History of Christmas Crackers
The history of Christmas crackers is a wonderful story which began with a confectioner and his family business.
After bringing the simple ‘bonbon’ back from Paris, Tom Smith replaced the sugared almond with toys, jewellery and small trinkets in 1849. This sweet included a riddle or motto however sales did not go well and they were not a success.
A year later, in 1850, Tom was inspired by the noise of the crackling fire and set about inventing a ‘pop’ noise once the cracker was pulled open. The snap noise was introduced in 1860 and the shape of the cracker we all know and love today came about.
Originally Christmas crackers were known as ‘Cosaques’ named after Cossack soldiers. These soldiers rode horses and fired gunshots in the air. They later became known as crackers.
Sadly, Tom died aged 46 from stomach cancer. A water fountain was made as a memorial and stands in Finsbury Square in London.
Following Tom’s death in 1869, his cracker legacy lived on through his sons Tom, Walter and Henry.
However, shortly after competition came. Tom’s son Walter introduced the modern contents of the cracker, the hat, gifts and various designs to rival the competitors, after travelling round the world to search for inspiration. And that became the Christmas cracker we know today.
All of their Christmas crackers are handmade. Today, the company is still going strong and sells around 50 million crackers each year.
Find out more about Tom Smith’s crackers here.
What Makes Crackers Pop?
So, what does make a cracker pop when we pull it open? Inside each cracker is a banger which reacts with friction once the cracker is pulled apart.
This banger is made from chemically impregnated paper which can be seen when the cracker has been opened. These are called cracker snaps.
How Do You Pull a Cracker?
Of course, there is a tradition here.
With 2 people, opening a cracker is pretty simple – just both grab an end and pull until you hear the ‘bang’.
But, with a group of people, generally sat around the table, the tradition is to cross your arms and get your neighbour to the left pull your cracker, whilst you pull your neighbour’s cracker to the right.
What’s Inside Christmas Crackers?
Christmas crackers today generally include a paper hat, a silly festive joke and a small gift.
The origin of the Christmas joke came from when Tom Smith introduced a riddle or motto in the first wrapped sweets, he began to sell following his trip to France. However, by the 1930s virtually all of these love poems had been developed into a silly joke or brainteaser like we have today.
After cracking open your Christmas cracker, families all wear their hats whilst eating their Christmas dinner. Crowns were added to crackers in the beginning of the 1900s by Tom’s son Walter. The symbol of the crowns dates back to ancient Romans when they celebrated Saturnalia in December.
Nowadays, Christmas crackers can be as luxurious or silly as people wish. Buying Christmas crackers makes us spoilt for choice.
Classic cracker gifts include a mirror, playing cards, bottle opener, small games, tape measure, pen, screwdrivers, photo frame and tweezers.
Generally, as with most things, the more you spend the better the gift.
How to Make Christmas Crackers
Believe it or not, Christmas crackers are relatively easy to make. Follow these steps and impress your family and friends with these homemade Christmas crackers.
You Will Need:
- Toilet roll
- Decorative A4 paper
- Decorative ribbon
- Cracker snaps (you can buy these on Amazon here)
- Cracker fillers (Christmas hat, gift and joke to place inside)
- Place your toilet roll tube on the long edge of your A4 decorative paper and secure this in place with some Sellotape.
- Thread a cracker snap through the toilet roll and hold it in place with more Sellotape to the decorative paper.
- Roll the toilet roll across the paper so the tube is covered and tape this down with Sellotape to secure it.
- Use ribbon to tie one of the ends of the toilet roll
- Fill your cracker with your hat, gift and joke – but be careful not to overfill.
- Tie your ribbon around the other end of your toilet roll to seal your cracker
- Finish decorating your cracker with more ribbon, present toppers or just leave it as it is – and there we go! You’ve made a cracker.
These days, to make the process even easier, you can buy a set of crackers already made to customise and decorate to your heart’s content.
So, get creative and a make a Christmas cracker good enough to rival that of Tom Smith’s.
Christmas Cracker Jokes
There are some seriously cheesy jokes that come out of Christmas crackers however that is all part of the fun. Sometimes, the sillier the better. Our rule: If they don’t make you roll your eyes, they’re not bad enough!
What did Adam say to his wife the day before Christmas?
It’s Christmas, Eve.
What do snowmen wear on their heads?
What do Santa’s little helpers learn at school?
Our Final Thoughts on the History of Christmas Crackers
Christmas crackers have a wonderful history, and add such a magical touch to the holiday. Even with their bad jokes, crackers are not going anywhere anytime soon.
So, this festive season, when you pull your cracker, thank Tom Smith for creating the Christmas tradition. And don’t forget to wear your Christmas hat!
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