I think I’m going crackers
Brightly coloured tissue-paper hats, miniature screwdrivers and toe-curlingly awful jokes plus the hard-earned ‘snap’–there’s nothing quite like pulling a Christmas cracker, says Katy Birchall
On January 7, 1915, an English soldier on the front line wrote home to his family in Maryport, Cumbria: ‘One of the fellows sharing my “buggy hut” had a parcel on the same day and we combined and invited four more pals, one of whom had a box of Tom Smith’s Christmas crackers sent out, which we cracked, and it added to the fun immensely. Christmas in the trenches! What a time! “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men”.’ Thanks to the familiar snap of the humble Christmas cracker, six soldiers gained a simple moment of joy in a time of utter devastation.
A century later, that marvellous ‘crack’ remains an essential component of our traditional festivities, one that’s been enjoyed in British households since the early 1840s. Legend has it that confectioner Tom Smith was inspired to add a snap of silver fulminate to his sugared-almond parcels after a log crackled loudly as he threw it onto the fire. These ‘bangs of expectation’, as Mr Smith named them, were a hit and, by 1900, the company was selling 13 million crackers a year. It received its first Royal Warrant in 1906 and remains the official supplier of crackers to the Royal Household to this day.
Bad jokes aside, this is a serious business, with preparations at Tom Smith, now based in South Wales, starting more than 12 months in advance of the festive season, creating a never-ending Christmas countdown. ‘We treat each cracker as a beautifully designed tableware item,’ explains the company’s Katie Brickle. ‘They can deliver humour, evoke nostalgia and lend an element of luxury to each place setting.’
The late 1800s, when crackers were handcrafted and beautifully printed, were a real heyday for these festive staples— even a young Alfred J. Munnings produced designs featuring goblins, pixies, snow