Why do we have Christmas crackers in the UK – and where do they come from?

A Christmas cracker is something you’ll find on dinner tables across the UK on December 25 – but do you know where the tradition came from? Here is everything you need to know

Christmas crackers
Christmas crackers are a big part of December 25

Christmas Day dinner wouldn’t be the same without a silly paper hat and a cringey cracker joke.

From November (or even earlier) supermarkets are filled with boxes of Christmas crackers just waiting to be pulled between family members or friends.

Christmas crackers are the staple of many dinner tables on December 25, and for many it provides a bit of light entertainment.

Unless you take the part of pulling the cracker a bit too seriously, and you’re a poor loser.

But have you ever wondered why we have crackers at Christmas? Where does the tradition come from?

As you prepare to feast on turkey, we take a closer look at the history of the Christmas cracker.

What is the point of Christmas crackers?

There is a banger inside the cracker, so it makes a noise when pulled


Getty Images/Hoxton)

A Christmas cracker is a cardboard paper tube which is usually wrapped in brightly coloured paper and twisted at both ends.

There is a banger inside the cracker, which means when the cracker is pulled apart by two people, it makes a loud noise.

Each person takes the end of a cracker and pulls, and the person who wins will usually find a paper crown made from tissue paper, and usually a joke and a little gift.

Where does the tradition of Christmas crackers come from?

Christmas crackers are an old tradition


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The tradition of Christmas crackers dates back to Victorian times. They were first produced in 1845-1850 by London sweet maker Tom Smith.

The confectioner and baker, who set up shop in Clerkenwell in the 1840s, initially specialised in wedding cakes and sweets.

However, after a trip to Paris he discovered the French Bon Bon, a sugared almond wrapped in tissue paper.

Inspired by the French sweets, Smith decided to produce them himself and add a motto to his sugared almond bon-bons in the UK. These were sold in a twisted paper package.

Christmas crackers will often accompany the main meal on December 25


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He was inspired to add the “bang” after hearing the crackle of his log fire. Smith patented his first cracker device in 1847, and perfected it in the 1860s.

Smith used two narrow strips of paper layered together with silver fulminate painted on one side, and an abrasive surface on the other.

When these rubbed together it would create a small explosion.

The toymaker decided to make a log-shaped package that produced a bang, and inside you’d find an almond and a motto. Soon the almond was replaced with a small gift.

It was originally sold as a Cosaque, after the Cossack soldiers who rode on their horses and fired guns into the air. But it soon became known as a “cracker”.

The cracker soon became a traditional festive custom.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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