What are Christmas Crackers?

A Kaminsky

Christmas crackers are long tubes, wrapped in bright paper that has been twisted at each end. A person pulls on each end of the cracker and when the cracker breaks, a small chemical strip goes “Pop!” and the contents fall out. They traditionally contain a paper party hat, a small gift, a balloon and a joke or old saying. The jokes are generally old ones, and most Britons will recognize them instantly, since the same jokes have been used for many years. It’s part of the charm.

A Christmas tree with presents.
A Christmas tree with presents.

Once the cracker has been opened, those opening it decide who gets the hat and the gift. The jokes are read aloud, everyone groans, and the next cracker is opened. Most British people would say Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a nice assortment of Christmas crackers to open after Christmas dinner is finished.

A house decorated for Christmas.
A house decorated for Christmas.

Christmas crackers are a uniquely British invention. They have their origin in French bon-bons, but pastry cook Tom Smith, inspired by the sound a log makes when thrown on the fire, experimented with the basic idea, and by 1847, had the earliest forms of crackers ready for sale.

Christmas crackers were enlarged to hold better gifts and in the early 20th century, Tom Smith’s sons used them to commemorate important events such as the 1900 Paris Exhibition. They hired writers to compose jokes and sayings appropriate for every occasion and marketed these crackers to a public that couldn’t seem to get enough of them. The tradition has continued and Christmas crackers, as well as other types of crackers, are still sold by the gross in Great Britain. Some companies sell empty crackers that buyers can fill themselves, according to their own tastes.

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Discussion Comments


@anon137010: I can't speak for all rebellious Yanks, but at least one major department store does carry Christmas crackers during December. I've never actually bought any, but they look festive. I can't say they've been available that long, however. I grew up in the 1970s and I don't remember seeing them on store shelves in the US.


We have them here in Canada as well. In fact, we "popped" our crackers around the Christmas table today. Poor Americans - you rebelled, and thus you have missed out on this pan-national (Commonwealth) Christmas treat.


My father is from England, and one year we had mini Christmas crackers as part of the presents because he wanted us to see what they were like. I remember mine having much of what this article says- smal toys, some candies, things like that. However, the idea of them stuck in my head as being much better than they probably were. But then, that's probably how the best Christmas crackers are for everyone who has had them- they weren't that exciting, but the novelty of it never gets old.


christmas crackers are such a fun little tradition for christmas eve. i did however, just read a news article where a woman in Australia was joyfully opening one only to find a stinky, dead, decaying mouse inside! bet she'll never open one in the same way again!

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