Close-up of a Christmas cracker

Christmas in the UK just wouldn’t be Christmas without some of our most established traditions such as turkey on the dinner table, presents underneath the Christmas tree, and tales about Father Christmas coming down the chimney. While we might not think that Christmas crackers are as important as advent calendars or Christmas pudding, practically everyone will pull at least one Christmas cracker over the holiday period.

While Christmas crackers might be a common sight on dinner tables today, they haven’t been around forever. The origins of the Christmas cracker can be traced back to 1847. Englishman Thomas J Smith had visited Paris and was impressed at the way Parisians sold their sweets. The sweets were individually wrapped, which was far more hygienic than the way they were being sold in England loose. As a result Smith started wrapping his sweets in twisted paper, and the first seed for the idea of the cracker was sown.

The sales of Smith’s sweets were disappointing however, and so in an attempt to create a buzz around the product he started inserting mottos into the sweets. Today, of course, crackers contain daft jokes and facts. However, Smith’s sweets were still missing what is perhaps most distinctive about the modern day cracker: the small amount of explosive powder that causes the crack.

The idea for adding a crack to Smith’s sweets came to him by accident when he placed a log on the fire. The crackle Smith heard from the logs was just what was needed to really make his sweets stand out. Ironically however, once the wrapper was made bigger to accommodate the crackle Smith decided to remove the sweet and instead place a gift in the wrapper.

How exactly Smith got the idea to put gifts in his crackers isn’t known but he might have been inspired by Italian confectioners who were already putting trinkets in their chocolate Easter eggs. Smith also needed to find a way to set his product apart from the copies that competitors were beginning to manufacture, and including a small gift was the best way.

While Smith might have been responsible for creating what would eventually become the Christmas cracker he wasn’t responsible for its name. In fact, he marketed the product as the Cosaque. However, they became commonly known as crackers because of the sound made when the two ends were pulled apart.

At this point however they weren’t known as Christmas crackers — they were simply crackers because they were used for all sorts of occasions. After the death of Thomas J Smith his sons took over the cracker making business. One of his sons, Walter, wanted to find a way to make their products stand out from the competition and decided to include paper hats — something that is found in all Christmas crackers to this day.

By the end of the century people all around the country were celebrating Christmas with crackers, and more than a century later people in the UK are still pulling crackers on Christmas day. While Christmas crackers are sold around the world there’s no doubt that they are most popular in the UK, making them a very British institution.

Written by Sam Luther, an experienced blogger and passionate gardener.

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