Christmas Countdown - Day 6 - The Life of the Christmas Cracker

2 min to read

Christmas Crackers are a British thing. They are part of Christmas celebrations in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Commonwealth countries (Canada, Australia ,New Zealand and South Africa).

They were not part of most American holiday traditions.  Marketers are working on that.

Christmas Crackers did originate as a marketing ploy by a candy distributor, Tom Smith, back in 1847. 

At first they were just wrapped candies, with mushy love notes.  In 1861 Tom started adding a bang to them. The idea came to him from a crackling fire.  

Christmas Cracker

He used something called a split, a shock-sensitive, chemically (silver fulminate.) impregnated card strip, (similar to that used in a cap gun). When pulled apart it makes a mild bang or snapping sound.

Christmas Cracker - splint

The size of the paper wrapper had to be increased to incorporate the banger mechanism. The candy was replaced by a trinket. 

Smith renamed them 'Bangs of Expectation' and tried marketing them as the Cosaque (French for Cossack named after the 'Cossack' soldiers who had a reputation for riding on their horses and firing guns into the air).

Christmas Cracker

The onomatopoeic "cracker" soon became its common name.  (The Word of the Week is Onomatopoeia -  the process of creating a word that phonetically imitates, resembles, or suggests the sound that it describes. – another example - the cat’s meow.)

Tom Smith’s sons took over this successful business and the cracker continued to evolve. Paper hats were added.  They sort of look like crowns and it is thought that they symbolise the crowns worn by the Wise Men or the decorative headgear of Saturnalia celebrations in Roman times. If you are new to the tradition of Christmas Crackers, it is imperative that you wear the hat during the dinner

Although Tom had hired freelance writers to create love poems and mottos to put inside the crackers, now  the tradition is very bad jokes!  Little slips of paper are inside the cracker with these riddles that are intended to make you groan.

Some examples:

  • Why did the turkey cross the road?
    Because it was the chicken's day off!
  • Why did the turkey join the band?
    Because it had the drumsticks!
  • What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire?
  • What do snowmen wear on their heads?
    Ice caps!
  • How do snowmen get around?
    They ride an icicle

Just in case you want to groan some more, click HERE for a long list!

Crackers are typically pulled at the Christmas dinner table. Though I have just heard that some families bring these out for the New Year's Eve dinner.
At the beginning of the meal 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. 

As a child I had Christmas Crackers, but as a mom I had Christmas dinner with my American born in-laws that did not have this tradition.  I tried introducing ithe crackers a few years back and my sons strongly disapproved.  There was no way they were going to wear those hats!  In the past few years I have been having a ladies holiday luncheon and there the Christmas Cracker are much better received!

The simple Christmas Cracker can now be extravagant. There are many options to suit your table décor and your budget. 

  • Swarovski Crystal Christmas crackers are sure to impress your guests.
  • The Perfect Measure set of crackers each houses a boozy miniature,  including Mahiki rum liqueur, Old Pulteney whisky and Whitley Neill gin.
  • There are now Christmas crackers for you dog!

Christmas dinner 2020 is likely to be a smaller affair so it might be a good time to either splurge or invest the time.

Click HERE to peak at some luxury crackers.

If you are crafty you might want to make some for this family dinner. HERE is the HGTV instructions

If you don’t like all the waste, there are ethical Christmas crackers.  The wrapping can be your napkin!

And next year when you might be flying some where for Christmas, it is good to note that many commercial flights explicitly prohibit Christmas crackers on board or in checked baggage.

And if you do travel to London, England, there is a Tom Smith memorial water fountain in Finsbury Square.