Christmas crackers were the creation of British confectioner Tom Smith and first appeared in 1847. Smith derived inspiration from a trip to Paris where he saw bon-bon sweets wrapped in paper with twists at either end. His first notion was to insert love messages inside the sweet wrappers to boost sales.
The story goes that Smith thought of adding the bang when he heard a fire crackle and pop. The size and nature of his ‘sweet’ were changed and it was marketed as the Cosaque (or Cossack), although it was his son Walter who added party hats and favours in later years to differentiate their crackers from others entering the market. Curiously, Tom Smith even produced crackers for spinsters with wedding rings inside. To this day, Christmas crackers are quintessentially British.
The Makings of a Good Cracker
There are a few ingredients essential to a satisfying Christmas cracker experience: a good snap & bang; a decent joke; a quality trinket and a robust hat. If there’s an excellent piece of trivia or a teasing quiz question on the same sliver of paper as the joke, then all the better. And yet so many boxes of crackers deliver little after the initial bang: jokes we’ve all heard before, plastic thimbles and flimsy tissue paper crowns. But Christmas just wouldn’t be the same with crackers, would it? So what do we intend to do about it?
Buying top-end boxes from Fortnum & Mason is the easiest solution to finding Christmas cracker satisfaction. Oh for those luxury goods tumbling out of each pulled cracker. Contentment guaranteed for all your family and friends. There are sumptuous but somewhat decadent sets of six at the top end of the price scale, presented beautifully in Fortnum’s trademark eau de nil coloured boxes. For adult party gatherings, look out for ‘tipple’ crackers containing alcohol miniatures.
Liberty offers its iconic multi-coloured floral prints on a set of six crackers filled with such gifts as wine pourers, wine aerators and mirrors. Each year, Liberty delves into its archives to use a print on a set of new crackers to accompany the multi-coloured set. Liberty also stocks a fine selection of crackers from other designers. Visit libertylondon.com for all choices.
Harrods traditionally produces a set of six in the £600 range that come with handmade bespoke party hats, gorgeously wrapped gifts, like cufflinks and earrings, and individual trivia books. In the lower price range, Harrods also offer sets for nearer £100: still rich and regal in appearance and containing such items as silver-plated money clips, wine bottle openers and coffee scoops.
Darkly rich and enticing are the luxury handmade crackers at Petersham Nurseries. Each cracker contains a gift that reflects the company’s ethos: a handmade gold leaf pinch pot, organic soap from Haye Farm, a brass spoon with elephant detail, seasonal vegetable seeds, a wooden dibber and organic hand cream. These beautiful dark green crackers are tied with the iconic Petersham Nurseries Indian ribbon in red.
Look out for boxes of crackers that double up as a game or activity project. In the last few years John Lewis has delivered a variety of games in their cracker boxes involving wind-up penguins, festive frogs and wind-up reindeer. Other stores have had their own versions, like Racing Elf sets. Ridley’s revel in taking us back to a by-gone age. Their Balloon Modelling Party Crackers could lead to some unexpected creatures joining you at the Christmas table. Balloon poodles anyone? You can also support a charity when buying your crackers. The RSPB annually sell the splendid boxes of six crackers with delightful chocolate birds inside, exclusive to the RSPB. Other choices online at shopping.rspb.org.uk.
We’re not talking crackers for cheese here, dear friends. No, it’s all about Christmas crackers containing food, drink and all items food-related. Hotel Chocolat’s crackers could become a Christmas perennial for the chocoholic in your life at about a fiver a pop. Three or more multi-buys and the price comes down. Hotel Chocolat’s large cracker for contains 40 festive chocolates, 12 hats and jokes: a jumbo one for the whole table. Italian restaurant chain Carluccio’s offers a chocolate fix of its own with its eye-catching sets of six, each containing milk chocolate treats.
Size Things Up
Crackers come in many sizes, from mini to jumbo. You can buy the most basic of jumbo crackers in shops and garden centres for under a tenner or consider such enormities provided by Fortnum & Mason or Hotel Chocolat with its appetising load of festive chocolates. There are online companies that will make your crackers for you – whatever the size, whatever the number – and we are about to explore a few names. You pick the material, the style, the trim and the trinket. You can also order the make-your-own kits. And you can have crackers branded with your family name or company brand.
Celebration Crackers was founded in Devon and has been hand-making crackers for more than 30 years. Its bespoke crackers are a joy and the company has made supremely high quality sets for Cath Kidston, Aspinal of London, Fortnum and Mason, Tatty Devine, Sophie Hulme, choconchoc, L’Occitane and many more. We love the designs and the approach. Its website celebrationcrackers.co.uk reads: “Every member of our team believes that working closely with our customers, whether it be help in creating their own designs or choosing from the ranges we have, is of tantamount importance. So whatever your budget, whatever your brief, we will be delighted to help.”
Designer Crackers can boast royalty, A-list celebrities and even a certain person at No. 10 Downing Street as clients. The company started its designer crackers “out of a love for the craft of handmade unique Christmas goodies.” It still hand-makes its delightful products in Dorset. Visit designercrackers.co.uk.
We also know you will love the story behind House of Crackers in West Sussex. What began with an eight-year-old boy and his loo roll inners is now, and has long since been, a business selling the most charming bespoke crackers. The owner’s Mum Beryl took responsibilty for the jokes and words of wisdom inside each cracker. Crackers are sold individually, either empty or complete with gift. The choices are beautifully bountiful. Visit houseofcrackers.co.uk.
Christmas cracker kits are available to buy online and department stores, offering an empty set of six crackers for just a few quid so you can fill ‘em yourself. This is the perfect idea if you want to tailor your crackers to individual family and friends.
Simply Crackers stock affordable make-your-own sets that includes wraps, hats, jokes, snaps and ribbons. All you need to add are the trinkets. Simple but chic, their all-black set might work perfectly for New Year celebrations. Check out simplycrackers.co.uk.
Think of putting nametags on each cracker to double up as place settings. This also ensures the trinket you place in that cracker goes to that person. Okay, we all know the person left with the big end of the cracker after its pulled is traditionally the ‘winner’. But bend the rules – it’s Christmas. The ‘winner’ can still read out the joke and ask the trivia question. Of course there won’t be such an issue if you make all your crackers of a theme, like chocolate, tea & coffee, retro sweets or alcoholic miniatures (for grown-up parties clearly – and to be pulled with caution to avoid breakages. We suggest using bubble-wrap.)
Another surprisingly good theme is stationery – boring old stationery. People find this stuff useful, much more so than that plastic whistle or miniscule yo-yo. You can fill crackers with quirky circular paperclips; pencil sharpeners and mini highlighter pens. Why not have a personalised rubber stamp made for each guest by noolibird.com. Throw in some Post-it Notes and packs of bookplates and you’ve got your ‘stationery geek’ crackers sorted. We suggest putting a few of these items in each cracker. Make them meaty. Also, don’t underestimate the bang of the buck when it comes to your crackers. Guests will certainly welcome lottery tickets and scratch cards. A millionaire might be born at your very Christmas table.
Be prepared to ‘zhush up’ your crackers with ribbon, tinsel, baubles, greenery, costume jewellery or glitter. You can bring all the elements of your room together with careful use of such adornments. Crackers can bring the Christmas table to life, while also complementing the baubles and bows on the tree and the ribbon-tied packages beneath it. An inexpensive box of crackers can turn from routine to regal with a touch of creativity and imagination.
Cracker Trinket Ideas
Lipsticks; lip gloss; nail varnish; nail files; nail clippers; eye shadow; compacts; earrings; perfumed soaps; wine bottle stoppers; wine pourers; luggage tags; key rings; cufflinks; tape measures; torches; pencil sharpeners; rubbers; Post-it pads; mini highlighter pens; biros; book-plates; bookmarks; alcohol miniatures; tea sachets; coffee sachets; hot chocolate sachets; cookie cutters; chocolates; sweets; mini mint tins; badges; balloons; scratch cards; lottery tickets; mini Christmas tree ornaments; shopping trolley locker discs; silver guardian angel keepsakes; mini Buddha statues; scented tea-light candles; votive candles; iTunes gift cards.
This alternative to a conventional Advent calendar is a cracking idea for youngsters. Buy a couple of boxes of inexpensive crackers, 24 small foil-wrapped chocolate treats and/or the same number of tiny trinkets. Open up one end of the cracker and upgrade the contents with one of your foil-wrapped chocolate pieces and/or one of the trinket gifts, like key rings, small decorations and mini sweet tins. If you wish, put in your own poem or trivia question on a small piece of paper. Close up that end once again and tie ribbon around it, making a big enough loop to hang it over a door handle. Repeat the process with all 24 crackers. Number 24 pieces of card or paper: 1 to 24. Stick a number on each of the crackers. Hang cracker number one from a door handle of a child’s room as they sleep on November 30th, ready for them to greet the first day of December with a bang when they awake. Make sure any pets are out of earshot when the crackers are pulled.
A Stocking Companion
Start Christmas morning with a bang. If you have youngsters at home you might want to try buying a jumbo cracker online and filling it with their favourite small toys and trinkets as a companion to (or even an alternative to) a Christmas stocking or sack. You can wrap individual items within the jumbo cracker – just make sure there is nothing breakable for when the gifts cascade to the floor. Adults need not be excluded, of course. Indeed this might be fun to introduce in an office or other workplace. Fill the giant cracker with a variety of chocolates and sweet treats. The big bang will loudly announce: this is the desk to visit right now.
There is another increasingly popular way of making your party go with a bang – the party bomb. When these indoor table fireworks pop your guests will be showered with a combination of confetti, flutterfetti, streamers, blow shooters, masks, bowties and even rocket balloons. There are many online suppliers, some taking bespoke requests like celebrationcrackers.co.uk and designercrackers.co.uk. They come in a wide variety of colours. You can also buy them from Fortnum & Mason in a combination of colours. Perfect for New Year.
Tom Smith invented the cracker but other fine Victorians created many of the Christmas traditions we know and love today. Learn more and view some wonderful images on our Victorian Christmas page – Click Here
Crackers and Stockists We Love
Carluccio’s: Buon Natale!
Celebration Crackers: bespoke never looked so good.
Designer Crackers: worthy of anyone’s A-list.
Petersham Nurseries: deeply dark green, ready to sow a seed.
Fortnum and Mason: royal splendour.
Harrods: quality crackers at their opulent best.
Hotel Chocolat: feed the addiction.
House of Crackers: childhood hobby, adult brilliance.
John Lewis: games for a laugh.
Liberty: classic prints, classic style.
RSPB: give something back.
Cracker Jokes We Love
Why are teddy bears never hungry for Christmas dinner?
They are always stuffed.
Why did the Christmas Turkey cross the road?
To prove he wasn’t chicken.
What is the best Christmas present in the world?
A broken drum: you just can’t beat it.
What song do you sing at a snowman’s birthday party?
Freeze a jolly good fellow.
What award goes to the best doorknocker designers?
A no bell prize.
How does Good King Wenceslas like his pizzas?
Deep pan, crisp and even.
Two snowmen are stood in a field. One says: “I don’t know about you, but I can’t half smell carrots.”
What do you call a reindeer with no eyes?
What do you call a reindeer with no eyes and no legs?
Still no idea.
What do you get if you eat Christmas decorations?
How did Mary & Joseph know Baby Jesus’ weight at birth?
They had a weigh in a manger.
What do you get when you cross a cat with a chemist?
Puss in Boots.
How many letters are there in the Christmas alphabet?
25. There’s no-EL.
Why did no one bid for Rudolph and Prancer on eBay?
They were two deer.
Santa went to the doctors with a mince pie stuck up his bottom. The doctor said: “You’re in luck ‘cos I’ve got some cream for that.”
Where do snowmen go to dance?
Who gets the sack every time he goes to work?
Why did the man pour green vegetables all over the ground?
He wanted peas on earth.
What song does Tarzan always sing at Christmas?
Why didn’t the schoolteacher believe the ghost?
Because she could see right through him.
What do you call bears with no ears?
Why was the Brussels sprout sent to prison?
It was a repeat offender.
Why did Rudolph have the complete works of Shakespeare on his top lip?
Because his nose was well red.
What athlete is warmest in winter?
A long jumper.
What do you call chess players bragging in a hotel lobby?
Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer.
Knock knock. Who’s there? Hannah. Hannah who? Hannah partridge in a pear tree.
Why was the football pitch soggy?
The players had been dribbling.
Why is it getting harder to buy advent calendars?
Because their days are numbered.
What does the Queen call her Christmas broadcast?
The One Show.
Why would Harry Styles make a poor Santa?
He can only use the chimney in One Direction.
Why are there no jokes about turkey giblets?
Because the punchlines are offal.
What do you get if you cross Santa with an electronic book reader?
What’s furry and minty?
A Polo bear.
What is faster, hot or cold?
Hot – because you can catch a cold.
What do you call a sleeping bull?
What illness does a martial arts expert get?
What’s the hardest key to turn?