We may be originally from America but we like to adopt the best traditions from where ever they come. One of those is the British Christmas Cracker.
Make your own Christmas crackers from old books at our workshop at the Book Room on 11 December 2021, 16h. The workshop is open to everyone over 11 years old and will be conducted in English, albeit American English, but come on over for some fun. 3€ per person covers supplies. We’ll provide everything including a template you can take home. Sign up at Brbookroom@gmail.com Limited by available space to 8 participants.
At Christmas you can make personalized crackers with the contents and designs specially chosen for your family and friends or buy them in a store. Either way they are set on the table as part of the festive decor and are opened when everyone sits down. Each person takes the ends of a cracker and pulls. Or with arms crossed everyone holds their own cracker in their right hand and pulls their neighbor’s cracker with their left hand to make a big simultaneous bang. Christmas Crackers are such an important part of Christmas in the United Kingdom that it is rumored that even the Queen wears her paper hat over lunch!
A paper hat? Yes! It is one of the parts of the traditional cracker along with a snapper, a goodie/gift and a joke. At the Book Room workshop we’ll make our hats in the shape of crowns out of an old encyclopedia! We’ve got plenty of joke books to select your joke – the cornier the better. The crackers themselves will be made from pretty art books and ribbons. The goodie will be up to you.
Where did Christmas crackers come from?
Christmas crackers are a British tradition dating back to Victorian times (1850s). London confectioner Tom Smith (now isn’t that the most British name you’ve every heard?!) discovered the French ‘bon bon’ on a trip to Paris. A bon bon was a sugared almond wrapped in a twist of tissue paper. Smith imported the idea to England and bonbons proved a hit at Christmas time. To encourage year-round sales, Smith added a small love motto or poem inside the wrapper creating a love token bought by men to give to women.
Then Tom went further. Legend says that inspiration came when he heard the crackle of a log put on the fire. He decided to make a package that was log shaped that would produce a surprise crack when opened. Smith patented his cracker device in 1847. It used two narrow strips of paper layered, with silver fulminate painted on one and an abrasive surface on the other – when pulled the friction of the two sides created a small explosion. Bang! Crack! Snap! Originally called “the Cosaque” it soon became known by the public as the ‘cracker’.
The paper hat was added when his sons took over in the early 1900s. Perhaps the hat morphed into a paper crown for Twelfth Night celebrations which hailed the arrival of the magi and where a King or Queen was appointed to watch over the proceedings, much like France’s Galette des rois at Epiphany. The sugared almond was replaced with a small gift. By the end of the 1930s, the love poems had been replaced by jokes or limericks. The cracker was adopted as a general festive custom or a promotional gimic for events. Today most households pull crackers to add a bang to Christmas.
Did you know:
- In the UK historic cracker wrappers are collected like stamps or like Camembert labels are collected in France. https://fusac.fr/history-politics-and-camemberts/
- The world’s longest Christmas cracker measured 63m long and 4m in diameter. It was made by the parents of children at Ley Hill School and Pre-School, Chesham, Buckinghamshire, UK in 2001.
- According to Guinness the biggest Christmas cracker pull was done by 1,478 people at an event organized by Honda Japan in Tochigi, Japan in 2009.
- The most Christmas crackers pulled by an individual in 30 seconds is 35, achieved by Alan Davies (UK) during the filming of the Qi Christmas episode in 2020.
- Read more about the origins and the history of Christmas Crackers https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/the-christmas-cracker
- Have fun with the “Bon” Speak Easy. It’s a puzzle where you match up idiomatic expressions like “bon bon” in French with the English equivalent.