You pull a Christmas cracker with the person sitting next to you, and inevitably stick the paper hat on your head, see what trinket or gadget has fallen out, and read aloud the corniest of jokes.
Christmas crackers were first made around 1850, and remain a traditional Christmas favourite here on the Island and throughout the UK.
London sweet maker called Tom Smith is reported to have made the first cracker. He saw the French ‘bon bon’ sweets during a trip across the Channel, went back to London and tried selling sweets like that, also including a small motto or riddle with the sweet.
Alas, they didn’t sell very well, but one night, while he was sitting in front of his log fire, he became very interested by the sparks and cracks coming from the fire. He thought what fun it would be, if his sweets and toys could be opened with a crack when their fancy wrappers were pulled in half.
Crackers were originally called ‘cosaques’ and were thought to be named after the ‘Cossack’ soldiers who had a reputation for riding on their horses and firing guns into the air!
When Tom died, his expanding cracker business was taken over by his three sons, Tom, Walter and Henry. Walter introduced the hats into crackers and he also travelled around the world looking for new ideas for gifts to put in the crackers.
The company built up a big range of ‘themed’ crackers. There were ones for bachelors and spinsters where the gifts were such bizarre items as false teeth and wedding rings. There were also crackers for Suffragettes – women who campaigned to get women the vote – war heroes and even Charlie Chaplain. Crackers were also made for special occasions like Coronations. The British Royal Family still has special crackers made for them.
Very expensive crackers have been made, such as the ‘Millionaire’s Crackers’ which contained a solid silver box with a piece of gold and silver jewellery inside. Cracker manufacturers also made large displays, such as horse drawn carriages and sleighs, for the big shops in London. So when you pull that flimsy piece of paper in half this year, and read the joke aloud, just remember – it’s a cracker!