Growing up in Canada, Christmas crackers have always been a part of my Christmas dinner tradition. I didn’t realize until recently that this is a distinctly British custom, passed along to the Commonwealth nations, and many Americans may not be familiar with it. For those of you who aren’t, here’s a short explanation.
Christmas crackers come with many different wrappers, but they basically consist of a cardboard tube wrapped in bright paper that is twisted closed at both ends. A “banger” (a chemically impregnated card strip) is threaded through the middle, so that when you pull the ends of the cracker, it splits with a bang (much like a cap gun). Typically the joy of opening a cracker is shared by two people, with one pulling on each end.
Store-bought crackers usually have a small toy or trinket, a joke or riddle on a slip of paper, and a tissue-paper hat inside. My mother has made homemade crackers using cloth and toilet paper tubes and fills them with more extravagant surprises and chocolates. Crackers are typically opened just before the Christmas dinner, and those who get into the spirit will wear the hats throughout the meal.
Tom Smith of London, England, invented crackers in 1847, as a promotion to sell his bon-bon sweets, which he sold in a twist of paper. The banger was added to emulate the crackle of a log on a fire, and eventually the crackers increased in size and trinkets and hats replaced the sweets.
I can’t imagine sitting down to Christmas dinner without finding a cracker next to each plate. Whatever the rituals may be in your home, I hope your Christmas was a peaceful and merry one!
Susan R. Hughes writes contemporary and historical romance novels set in Canada. She lives in Ottawa, Ontario, with her husband and three children. Learn more about her books at www.susanrhughes.weebly.com
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