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Home UK Christmas World Archive The Story Behind The Christmas Cracker

The Story Behind The Christmas Cracker

The humble cracker is a staple of our modern Christmas celebrations and a yuletide table setting isn’t complete without a selection available to amuse the hungry revellers.

red shiny Christmas cracker on a dining table

Records show the cracker has been around since as early as 1840 when it began as a ‘bon-bon’, a development of a sweet in a twist of paper into which a manufacturer started adding a message, like a fortune cookie, to increase sales. The crackle of a fire gave him the idea to put the ‘crack’ into his crackers and this novelty has been enjoyed ever since. The paper hats, trivia/jokes and trinkets followed soon afterwards to create the cracker we enjoy today.

Over the years fashions have changed and the gifts included have varied from plastic moustaches to precious gems, depending on your budget of course. The notes inside can be corny jokes or in depth facts for a more high-brow gathering. The decorations on the crackers themselves have also gone through a large range of guises, from the traditional red, green and gold to contemporary designs so there really is a cracker to suit any Christmas. Crackers were made for specific groups like bachelors/spinsters, suffragettes and war heroes and occasions like Coronations.

two people pulling a christmas cracker

Love it or hate it, the bang is one of the most important parts of a cracker and influenced the evolution of the modern cracker. The bang itself comes from a strip of card running inside the cracker, this is made of two halves joined with one side impregnated with a shock-sensitive chemical and the other an abrasive. Pulling the two halves of the cracker apart triggers a chemical reaction which produces the sound. One chemical commonly used is silver fulminate, a highly unstable substance which has little use except for novelty fireworks, like fun snaps and bangers, due to its extreme sensitivity to impact, heat, pressure and electricity. It cannot be kept in large quantities due to the risk of it’s own weight detonating it.

The snaps can even be purchased separately for those wishing to make their own crackers but still have the thrill of the bang. You can either purchase a kit or get creative and assemble your toilet rolls, Blue Peter style, along with your snaps, made up jokes, sweets, decorated papers and ribbons. That way you can tie your crackers in with the rest of your Christmas décor.

Why not see if you can compete with some of the greatest crackers ever made like the largest cracker which took 1,478 people to pull or the longest which was an amazing 63.1m (207ft) long and 4m (13ft) wide.

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