What’s the deal with Christmas crackers?

Posted on Dec 11, 2019 Tags: , ,

Crackers are such a common sight at a British Christmas that we often don’t realise how weird they are. But try and explain the concept to an American, and watch their face crease in bewilderment. “They’re tubes with toys inside. And paper hats. And rubbish jokes. But you don’t open them, you have to pull them apart because they’re also full of gunpowder and they explode and we think that’s fun. We have them at the dinner table. They’re mostly for children. Safe? Yes…sort of…”

When did we come up with this bizarre concept? And why?

Well, you can blame a Victorian confectioner named Tom Smith. He’d seen wrapped bonbons in France and thought they’d go down well in the UK. To make them even more enticing, he included a riddle with the sweet.

He was wrong. They didn’t go down well. So, he added gunpowder.

Years later, when his cracker company ‘Bangs of Expectation’ had become a success, Smith said he’d been inspired to turn his bonbons into explosive gift tubes while staring into the fire. As he watched the flames, a log burst with a crack and a shower of sparks. Like a true Victorian businessman, he thought it would be fun to make toys explode like that in children’s faces. He included his riddles in the exploding tubes, and these became the first cracker ‘jokes’.

When his sons took over the business, they expanded the concept to include the toys and hats with which we’re now familiar. This was originally part of a clever marketing ploy aimed at getting their crackers into the public eye. For example, they made luxurious crackers for the Royal Family, and emancipation-inspired crackers for suffragette chapters. They also encouraged toy and trinket manufacturers to design their own cracker toys (providing publicity from which both companies could benefit).

The Smith brothers were clever about adapting, expanding, and marketing their product. The concept proved very popular. So much so that it’s now hard to imagine Christmas without paper cracker hats and groan-worthy jokes.

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