That was my initial question when I read an email from Piano Man’s classroom parent asking for a volunteer to make some Christmas crackers. Based on the teacher’s personal experiences with this widely popular British Christmas tradition, the teacher and classroom parent thought it would be a fun way to add a little cultural flair to the class Christmas party. Personally, I had never heard of Christmas crackers before, and thanks to the Internet, I found several excellent sources to make your very own Christmas crackers. After watching a few videos and reading a few Internet sources, I volunteered to make these for the kids. It was wonderful opportunity to learn about and share in another culture’s Christmas tradition.
But before I dive into sharing my adventures in making or even buying some, let’s talk about the origins and background of the Christmas cracker.
A History Lesson on Christmas Crackers
The origins of Christmas crackers date back to the 1840s, when a London sweets shop owner, named Tom Smith, invented Christmas crackers to help boost his bon-bon sales. According to Mirror Online, a UK website, Smith added a “love motto” inside each package of sweets, much like what you see in a fortune cookie. There is also a “snap, crackle, pop” element, made from strips of paper that sandwiches silver fulminate, to add a pop reflecting the sounds of what you hear when a fire crackles on a yule log.
There’s a great YouTube video that perfectly exemplifies the Christmas cracker tradition (see video above). My boys and I watched the video, and they looked intrigued by the people enjoying their crackers at the dinner table. Typically, two people will pull one end of the cracker like a wishbone. The person with the larger portion will take the following contents out:
– a crown made out of tissue paper
– christmas-related joke/riddle
– candy or small toy/trinket
Although this is an originally British tradition, Christmas crackers have spread around the globe to places in Hong Kong, South Africa, and Australia. We’re now bringing this tradition to the Midwest.
Decision Time: To Make or to Buy?
I also watched an Old English video to teach me how to make one from scratch. I thought, “How hard could this be?” The instructor on the video made it look so easy. While I wished that I had access to some of these supplies from the Old English store, time was not on my side, so I set out to make everything from things available from my home.
I used toilet paper rolls, glue, Christmas wrapping paper, curling ribbon, and a strip of paper cut from a paper grocery bag. I did not think you needed a special chemical compound sandwiched between two pieces of paper. (I know. How else would one be able to create a pop to the cracker without it?) After some research, I needed silver fulminate to recreate a pop inside the cracker. However, did you also know that you shouldn’t handle silver fulminate with your bare hands?
To modify the cracker design, I bought a package of party poppers at Party City, which also contains silver fulminate, thinking I could carefully attach another piece of string and slide a party popper inside the cracker. The only problem with this design is that the party popper is pulled from one end. The package specifically says to be aware of your digits when pulling the popper. Also, the package advised that users should not aim a party popper in the direction of another person or his face.
Good to know. Good to know.
We pulled one to hear how loud and see the force at which the streamers pop out of the popper. After one try, I had this worried feeling that we were going to send several children to the hospital with my flawed design, fearing some who might be too excited to check the wrong end of the cracker.
Thus, I went back to the drawing board. Actually, I headed out the door to run some errands. As I was walking toward the checkout lanes at Target, there they were, sitting on an end cap!
Then I saw them at Meijer, the kind that said Tom Smith’s brand of Christmas crackers. Who would’ve thought Christmas crackers were so easy to find?
But if I had to buy Christmas crackers, I would buy them at World Market. The color choices were much more aligned with the color scheme of our class party, and they looked cuter than one wrapped in traditional shiny red, gold, or green paper. Piano Man’s teacher already purchased some for the kids to give them a Christmas goody bag. But I still wanted to make some for the kids to work on a picture puzzle during the party.
So it looks like Christmas crackers are making their way to the U.S. Tomorrow, I’ll share how to make a Christmas cracker without a cracker snap. I’ll provide a free template on a large Christmas puzzle that were placed inside. Let’s see if we can spread this tradition to your hometown.
Christmas Traditions: The History Behind Crackers, Mistletoe, Turkey, Stockings, Tinsel, Mince Pies and More
Wikipedia’s Origins of the Christmas Cracker
Olde English Video on CHristmas Crackers