I was first introduced to the British tradition of Christmas Crackers several years ago while on a holiday shopping trip. I came across a box of Tom Smith Christmas Crackers (more about Tom Smith below) – all wrapped in brightly colored, shiny paper, twisted on each end. After seeing the novelty items and reading the history of the cracker on the back of the box, I was intrigued to see what this tradition was all about. I ended up surprising my family with the crackers on Christmas morning – which was a hit! The tradition was so successful, we’ve had Christmas crackers almost every year since.
What is the tradition of the Christmas Cracker? Christmas Crackers are generally shared with friends and family at Christmas dinner or Christmas celebrations. Per the tradition, two people grab opposite ends of a cracker and pull, igniting the “pop” of the cracker and spilling out the fun and festive contents inside. While crackers are most enjoyed during the winter holidays, they can also be used to celebrate just about any holiday or special occasion, including birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and more.
What is a Christmas Cracker made from? A Christmas cracker is, in most cases, made from a paper tube wrapped in colorful, often times seasonal holiday paper, and twisted and/or tied on both ends. Inside the cracker, there are two pieces of thin, narrow cardboard holding a small amount of gunpowder. When the cracker is pulled from each end at the same time, the friction on the cardboard causes a light “pop” or crack.
Who invented the Christmas Cracker? The tradition dates back to Victorian times, circa 1847, when the London-based baker, Tom Smith, created the first ever Christmas Cracker. Tom Smith was inspired by French bonbons that, at the time, featured sugared almonds wrapped in tissue paper and twisted on the ends. He put his own spin on the almond bonbon by adding a love motto inside. Eventually, he enhanced the idea by using fancy papers, replacing the almond with novelty items, and adding a popping mechanism for theatrical effect, which is intended to sound like the crackling of a fire.
What’s inside a Christmas Cracker? While the original crackers were filled with a sugared almond, they have evolved to accommodate just about any budget and taste. Crackers can range from simple and inexpensive – with small trinkets or toys, to quite elegant and pricey- with such high-end luxury items as jewelry, perfume, fancy soaps, and fine chocolates. But no matter what “gift” is included, a Christmas cracker nearly always includes a surprise gift, a colorful paper crown and a piece of paper with a joke or limerick on it.
Where are Christmas Crackers popular? Given their origin in England over 175 years ago, Christmas Crackers have been a long-standing tradition in Great Britain (some statistics say the British will pull apart over 150 million crackers at Christmas). However, their popularity has grown so much over time that they can now be widely found throughout the world, especially at Christmastime. While there are many brands, types and styles of Christmas Crackers today, the Tom Smith Christmas Cracker remains the most notable brand of Christmas Crackers. In fact, the Tom Smith brand is so beloved that it has held the Royal Warrant as Suppliers of Christmas Crackers and Wrapping Paper by the British Monarch since 1906.
Where can Christmas Crackers be purchased? In the U.S., Christmas Crackers can be found at many stores during the Christmas season. I’ve found them at specialty stores like Williams Sonoma, Paper Source, and L’Occitane, and also at everyday stores like Target, Walmart, and Costco. They can also be purchased online, including Amazon, and my favorite – Old English Crackers, that have some of the cutest novelty items I’ve seen for reasonable prices.
So if you’re looking to add a little fun and festive British holiday tradition to your celebration this year, it just might be time to pop open a box of Christmas Crackers!
Have a Merry Christmas Everyone!