A Christmas cracker looks like a large candy, wrapped in colorful paper, but it isn’t edible. It makes a “pop” sound when two people pull on each end, and it opens up to show small gifts, a joke, and a paper hat inside. Christmas crackers are primarily a Christmas tradition in the UK, but they are also available in the USA and other parts of the world.
Christmas Cracker Invention
The history of the Christmas cracker is as fascinating as the item itself. Tom Smith, a sweet maker from London, is credited with its invention around 1845-1850. Inspired by the French ‘bon bon’ sweets, he introduced a similar concept in England. My grandmother often regaled us with tales of how Tom, sitting by his fireplace, he was inspired by the sparks and cracks of the fire, which leaded him to the creation of the cracker’s signature “pop”.
Inside a Christmas Crackers
Traditionally, Christmas crackers come with a paper crown, a small joke or riddle, and a tiny present inside.
The Christmas cracker toys are small and inexpensive trinkets such as miniature playing cards, plastic combs, and tiny notebooks. However, luxury crackers offer more upscale items. These premium contents might include delicate jewelry pieces like necklaces or earrings, miniature sterling silver items such as spoons or letter openers, and finely crafted crystal ornaments or pendants. The specific contents can vary based on the brand and price point.
The paper hats inside Christmas crackers are made from tissue paper and look like the crowns that kings and queens wear. After opening the cracker, people usually put these crowns on right away and wear them during dinner and sometimes longer. Tom Smith’s son came up with the idea to put these crowns in crackers in the early 1900s. But the custom of wearing special hats during celebrations goes back to ancient Roman times.
The joke in a Christmas cracker is there to make people laugh and have fun during the holiday meal. Tom Smith added riddles for fun. Over time, these turned into the corny jokes we find today.
I have collected various fun Christmas cracker gifts over the years, from tiny compasses to quirky keychains. But it is the jokes, cheesy and predictable, that I look forward to reading out loud.
Pulling the Christmas Cracker
Christmas crackers are typically placed on the Christmas dinner table either next to each person’s plate or directly on top of their dinner napkin. In some settings, they might be arranged in the center of the table settings or even as part of a decorative centerpiece.
How to Pull a Christmas Cracker with 2 People
Each person takes one end of the cracker in their hand. Together, they pull the cracker apart. This action should be done with a firm yet gentle tug to ensure the cracker pops open.
The person left holding the larger part of the cracker is traditionally considered the “winner.” However, in our family it is not about winning but about the shared experience. The winner typically gets the contents, which include the small gift, paper hat, and joke. But it is common for people to share or exchange items, especially if the other person particularly likes the gift or joke.
How to Pull a Christmas Cracker in a Group
Each person at the table picks up the cracker of the person sitting to their right using their right hand. With their free left hand, they hold onto the other end of their own cracker, which the person to their left should be holding with their right hand. This ensures everyone has a cracker to pull and a partner to pull it with. On a given signal or countdown, everyone pulls their crackers simultaneously, creating a series of pops around the table.
As with two people, the person holding the larger part of the cracker after it it is pulled is the traditional “winner” and gets the contents. We often trade items or share jokes with one another.
In both scenarios, the paper hat is usually worn by the person who “won”, adding to the festive atmosphere, and jokes are often read aloud for everyone to enjoy (or groan at!).
How to Make Christmas Crackers
You can buy kits for making Christmas crackers. But you can also make them from recycled materials. Inspired by the tradition, I once embarked on a DIY journey to craft my own Christmas crackers. Using a cardboard tube or empty toilet paper rolls, decorative wrapping paper, ribbons, a paper crown or paper hat, and a selection of personalized gifts, I created a batch that was a hit at our family gathering.
If you want your homemade Christmas crackers to have the traditional “pop” sound when pulled, you need cracker snaps. The cracker snap is a small strip that creates the popping sound when the cracker is pulled apart. You can buy these snaps at craft stores or online shops, especially around the holiday season.
Christmas Cracker Jokes
The jokes inside Christmas crackers are an essential part of the fun. They are cheesy, light-hearted, and perfect for some festive humor. Here are a few more favorites:
- What do you get if you cross a snowman with a vampire? Frostbite!
- Why did the scarecrow win an award? Because he was outstanding in his field!
- How does Santa keep his suits wrinkle-free? He uses Claus starch!
Did you know the world’s longest Christmas cracker measured a staggering 207ft long? Made by parents at Ley Hill School in the UK, it is a record that always amuses our family. Imagine the treasures inside that one!