Along with mistletoe, turkey and Christmas trees, Christmas crackers are an integral part of festive celebrations in the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth countries. Crackers are traditionally ´pulled´ at the dinner table for Christmas dinner or other festive dinner celebrations.
A Christmas cracker in essence is a decoratively wrapped paper tube, twisted at both ends with a small explosive strip running through it and a small toy within, as well as a coloured paper crown, and a joke.
In the late 1840´s, English confectioner Thomas Smith visited Paris and left inspired after seeing “bon-bons”, comprising sugar-coated almonds wrapped in paper that was twisted at each end. Upon returning to England he also began selling sweets wrapped in a twist of paper but found that they didn´t sell well apart from the lead up to Christmas.
In the early 1950s Smith developed the idea of putting a little motto inside the wrapper of the sweet. As many of the sweets were given to women by men, the mottos tended to be simple love notes or poems.
It wasn´t until 1860 that the cracking element of the cracker was introduced. Smith added two strips of chemically impregnated card that produced a loud noise when pulled apart. To incorporate the cracker mechanism, the size of the wrapper paper had to be increased. They were at first known as “cosaques” but soon came to be known as crackers.
Unfortunately for Smith, his idea was copied by many other manufacturers very quickly, therefore the sweet was eventually changed for a small gift. It wasn´t until the 1900s that the paper hat was introduced, a tradition that dates back to the Roman Saturnalia celebrations. It is thought that the idea of wearing paper hats derives from the Twelfth Night celebrations where a king or queen looked over proceedings.
The love note or poem was changed for a joke or a limerick, and the small gift is often a spinning top, a bottle opener or other small gimmick.
Christmas Crackers Today
Crackers are traditionally pulled with the person on either side with crossed arms. There are two variations on who wins. One version involves the person with the larger portion of cracker getting to keep the contents. Alternatively, each person has their own cracker thus they get to keep the gift regardless of whether they win the larger end or not.
It is no doubt that this age old tradition is widely enjoyed all over the world during the festive period, however don´t expect the jokes to be world class. If you want to visit the place where it all started don’t hesitate to rent one of our luxury vacation rentals with www.localnomad-london.com. Happy Christmas!