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Christmas Crackers

Updated on October 25, 2015

The idea of putting a small gift and a hat into a cardboard tube, then pulling it apart for fun was first thought of in the 19th century and became part of the Christmas festivities. The name given to it is a cracker.

So what is a cracker? A cracker is a small cardboard tube covered in a coloured paper and twisted at both ends.

How does the cracker work? The cracker is pulled by two people each holding one end of the twisted cardboard. Then the friction created a small explosion pop and the contents fall out.

What's inside the cracker? Usually you will find, a brightly coloured paper hat or a paper crown, a small gift, a balloon, a joke or a quotation written in a slip of paper.

Where does the 'pop' comes from? The pop is produced by a strip of chemically impregnated paper.

Who invented the cracker?

The cracker was invented by an enterprising Victorian named Tom Smith, who as a young boy in 1830 worked in a bakery in London. His employers were often commissioned to supply elaborate cakes for wedding and Smith began creating new designs and decorations for these confections. He soon started his own business, selling cake decorations, sweets and party novelties such as flags and streamers. Much of his success can be attributed to his constant efforts to offer his customers new and exciting ideas for their parties.

Smith's search for inspiration frequently took him abroad. In Paris in 1840 he came across an idea for selling confectionery that was new to him; a sugared almond wrapped in a twist of tissue paper called "bonbon". He instantly saw that this had potential as another party novelty.

Although bonbons were very popular in Paris, they at first failed to impress Tom Smith’s English market. But Smith was convinced that he had a winning idea. It was just a matter of making his bonbons more exciting. Legend has it that inspiration came one day when he was listening to the log crackle and snap in his fireplace. What the bonbons needed was sound.

Within a year, Tom Smith was selling a much larger version of his bonbons, which he called “Cosaques”. The wrapping now included an explosive snap, a motto and a gift. This was obviously just what the British public was waiting for. Soon, demand for Smith’s crackers, far exceeded what he was able to supply from his existing premises.

The business continued to expand and after Tom Smith’s death, his three sons carried on their father’s work. One of these sons, Walter is credited with the idea of including hats made of tissue paper in the crackers.

Tom Smith Christmas Crackers - Catalog Covers - 1916 -1922 -1940

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Tom Smith Christmas Crackers - 1916 Catalog Cover Tom Smith Christmas Crackers - 1922 Catalog Cover               Tom Smith Christmas Crackers - 1940 Catalog Cover
Tom Smith Christmas Crackers - 1916 Catalog Cover
Tom Smith Christmas Crackers - 1916 Catalog Cover
Tom Smith Christmas Crackers - 1922 Catalog Cover
Tom Smith Christmas Crackers - 1922 Catalog Cover
Tom Smith Christmas Crackers - 1940 Catalog Cover
Tom Smith Christmas Crackers - 1940 Catalog Cover

Crackers reached the height of their popularity in the early years of the 20thcentury. At this time they were far more topical than they are today, with mottoes referring to current events and fashions, rather than old jokes and bad puns.

Early Tom Smith's catalogues also show a wide range of designs, the company created cracker for different occasions such as the Suffragettes, War heroes, Charlie Chaplin,

The Queen's Coronation, exclusive crackers are made for the Royal family they have and still are to this day.

Throughout this time, crackers had no particular association with Christmas – that emphasis emerged gradually as the 20th century progressed.

The British royal Family has always been a great patron of Tom Smith crackers and regularly orders them for its Christmas celebrations.

Since Tom Smith invented the crackers, there are hundreds of manufactures who have ventured in this business, nowadays much of the cracker-making process is automated and a handmade cracker is a luxury to receive.

Today you will find quality crackers in supermarket, department stores, craft shops with ribbons, lace, bells, from elegant Christmas crackers to eco-friendly Christmas crackers which are made of recyclable materials. You can also purchase different novelty crackers online.

Christmas crackers are now used to celebrate variety of other special occasions and festive events such as weddings, birthdays, anniversary and as a party favors all over the United Kingdom and other European countries, United States, Canada , Australia and New Zealand.

It has been about 150 years since Tom Smith invented the crackers and still lives on today and adding festive touch to the Christmas dinner table and continues to bring pleasures to the young and the old.

Novelty Christmas Crackers

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    • KJRaider profile image

      KJRaider 8 years ago

      Good job I always enjoy your hubs. I wish I could come up with these kind of ideas. I really enjoyed this one. I think I am going to get some of these for Christmas at my new home. Thanks

    • Godslittlechild profile image

      Godslittlechild 8 years ago

      One of my favorite tv shows is a Christmas episode of "Are You Being Served?" where they open their Christmas crackers. It looks like fun!

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 8 years ago from Jaipur

      Hi Del,

      Excellent hub. I liked descriptions.

      Thanks and thumbs up!

      Jyoti Kothari

    • MM Del Rosario profile image

      MM Del Rosario 8 years ago from NSW, Australia

      Hi Macbeth,

      Looking forward in reading about it in your next hub.....thanks for your inspiring comment.

      Regards, MM

    • macbeth25 profile image

      macbeth25 8 years ago

      Good Job. I'm glad to be advised when you write a new HUB. I really liked it. I'm writing one of my own which you have inspired. Just think how the world would be if the Nazis had come up with atomic weapons first. I'll tell you (and everyone) all about it in a new HUB. Irish Blessings on you and yours and Irish curses on your enemies. MAC.