Where can you find the worst jokes and silliest hats in the world? British Christmas crackers.
These crackers have nothing to do with the crisp wafers you eat with cheese. They are cleverly wrapped gifts in a tube shape that go BANG when you pull both ends.
How did these strange paper packages come to be associated with Christmas? It started with the Victorians (most modern Christmas traditions started with the Victorians). A fellow with the memorable name of Tom Smith created the first cracker, inspired by paper-wrapped almonds that were sold in France as “bon-bons.” The difference was that his bon-bons included a strip of chemical-filled card that created a small explosion when ripped apart.
These gifts with a bang became wildly popular, and so the cracker was born.
Like the gifts presented to Jesus by the three kings, the merriment contained in a Christmas cracker comes in three parts. Instead of gold, there is a paper hat. Instead of frankincense, there is some kind of item made out of plastic that will be forgotten about within 90 seconds, and instead of myrrh, there is (grits teeth) a joke.
- Paper hat: Sometimes they look like sailor hats, other times they’re crowns. Whether made from tissue paper or newspaper, these hats are sure to inspire laughter and hilarity. Especially when Grandpa puts one on.
- Tiny toy: This could be anything from a plastic comb, to a miniature deck of playing cards, to costume jewelry, to a compact, to pullback cars. It doesn’t mean much, but every now and then you could find something pretty or useful.
- Bad joke: To my mind, this is the best part of the cracker. These jokes are always lame and cheesy, but that makes them all the more hilarious! How horrid can you make the jokes? Let’s see….
How do I get one?!
So now you’re desperate to participate in this oh-so-British tradition. Well, you can do the normal thing and purchase your crackers premade. There are plenty of places to get them online, including the original Tom Smith brand (yep, he’s still out there). If you are in the United States, try Christmas Crackers USA where you can buy your crackers already filled, or ready-to-fill.
I wanted to bring back a box of crackers when I came home from England this year, but found out that most airlines won’t let you carry them onboard the aircraft. Such a disappointment!
The alternative is to make your own Christmas Crackers. I did this one year for my family and we had a blast! I purchased the snapping strips online, cut out paper crowns, and stuffed wrapping paper with candy and little coloured whistles, along with the obligatory corny jokes.