Christmas Crackers

(redirected from Christmas cracker)
Also found in: Wikipedia.

Christmas Crackers

In Great Britain Christmas crackers are a common holiday party favor. Wrapped in colored paper, these cardboard tubes contain a fortune (or motto) and a small toy. When pulled from both ends, they burst open with a popping noise.

Christmas crackers present us with one of the few Christmas customs whose origins are definitely known. They were invented in the mid-nineteenth century by an English confectioner named Thomas Smith. Smith visited Paris in 1844. He brought home with him the idea of marketing a bonbon wrapped in a bit of tissue paper, similar to those he had seen in Paris shop windows. Sales were slow, especially after Christmas, so Smith came up with the idea of adding a motto. This helped, but more was needed. Soon he hit upon a way of getting the crackers to open with a small bang. Smith marketed his novelty as a Christmas amusement in 1846, hoping to cash in on the growing Christmas market (see also Victorian England, Christmas in). Smith's Christmas cracker caught on with the public, eventually giving rise to a new British Christmas tradition.

The name as well as the contents of Smith's invention have changed over time. In the early days Smith called his novelty a "cosaque" rather than a cracker. This name probably refers to the Cossacks, a people from southern Russia who were feared soldiers and famed horseback riders. According to nineteenth-century advertisements, Smith's crackers contained such things as paper hats, night-caps, masks, puzzles, games, toys, hair dye, flowers, perfume, Japanese trinkets, tiny harps, and toys of a scientific bent. Today's crackers typically hold paper hats, whistles, and a variety of inexpensive plastic toys. Nineteenth-century cracker mottoes hoped to amuse or inspire the recipient with a few lines of light verse. Since those times mottoes have shifted towards jokes, riddles, and puns.

Tom Smith's cracker company has survived till this day, although it now faces competition from several other firms. In spite of this competition, Smith's company turns out about 38 million crackers each year. The firm sells most of these in the United Kingdom, but ships about fifteen percent abroad. In an effort to boost off-season sales, the company has introduced new designs suitable for other holidays, including Halloween and the Fourth of July, and such special occasions as weddings and children's birthday parties.

Further Reading

Muir, Frank. Christmas Customs and Traditions. New York: Taplinger, 1977. Pimlott, J. A. R. The Englishman's Christmas. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1978. Sansom, William. A Book of Christmas. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1968. Street, Ed. "Tom Smith's Novelty - The English Christmas Cracker." TheWorld and I 11, 12 (December 1, 1996): 190-95.
References in periodicals archive ?
Today, 1-3pm, Moorside Park, Crosby event Christmas Cracker Christmas event Christmas Cracker will take place in conjunction with the Friends of Victoria Park and the Crosby and District Lions Club.
A Christmas Cracker (ITV, 8pm) is Bradley Walsh's variety show, with guests including Katherine Jenkins, The Muppets and The Vamps.
uk HOTEL CHOCOLAT LARGE CHRISTMAS CRACKER PS36 CHOCOLATE-LOVERS are likely to have this at the top of their Christmas wish list.
CLOSE to 750 pulled together yesterday - and cracked the world Christmas cracker record.
Shoppers, office workers and restaurant staff linked up to take part in the World's Longest Christmas Cracker Pulling Chain outside the Ikon Gallery in Oozells Square, Brindleyplace.
Chris Allsopp sends his troops into action in the quest for Trainer of the Year points and will be hoping Brittons Empire gets it right at the start in the second heat of the Coors Christmas Cracker Dual Distance at 7.
That was picked as Britain's worst Christmas cracker joke in a survey of Nuts magazine readers.
Christmas cracker jokes aren't meant to be side-splittingly funny and Brits love that they're not, according to leading Christmas cracker manufacturer Robin Reed.
It was a funnier joke than you'd find in any Christmas cracker as the ball cannoned off D'Urso's back and straight to Jari Litmanen who slotted home the rebound with a minimum of fuss.
A Christmas Cracker (UTV, 8pm) is Bradley Walsh's variety show, with guests including Katherine Jenkins, The Muppets and The Vamps.
A MERSEYSIDE cleaning and catering supplier has seen a boom in Christmas cracker sales - as they look set to hit sales of 40,000 by the end of this week.