Definitions

Christmas cracker

Christmas cracker

Christmas Crackers is also an episode of Only Fools and Horses.

Christmas crackers are an integral part of Christmas celebrations in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and in other Commonwealth countries. A cracker consists of a cardboard tube wrapped in a brightly decorated twist of paper, making it resemble an oversized sweet-wrapper. The cracker is pulled by two people, and, much in the manner of a wishbone, the cracker splits unevenly. The split is accompanied by a small bang produced by the effect of friction on a chemically impregnated card strip (similar to that used in a cap gun).

In one version of the tradition the person with the larger portion of cracker empties the contents from the tube and keeps them. In another each person will have their own cracker and will keep its contents regardless of whose end they were in. Typically these contents are a coloured paper hat or crown; a small toy or other trinket and a motto, a joke or piece of trivia on a small strip of paper. Crackers are often pulled after Christmas dinner or at parties.

Assembled crackers are typically sold in boxes of three to twelve. These typically have different designs usually with red, green and gold colours. Making crackers from scratch using the tubes from used toilet rolls and tissue paper is a common Commonwealth activity for children.

It is a running joke that all the jokes and mottos in crackers are not funny and unmemorable, along with being the same as those which have been used for many years past, resulting in most people either knowing or predicting the answers. Similarly, in most standard commercial products, the "gift" is equally awful, although wealthier individuals - notably, the British Royal Family - may use custom crackers with more expensive rewards. And some people will make their own (typically from kits) and add inexpensive but personalised gifts.

History

Crackers were invented by London confectioner Tom Smith, in 1847, as a development of his bon-bon sweets, which he sold in a twist of paper (the origins of the traditional sweet-wrapper). As sales of bon bons slumped, Smith began to come up with new promotional ideas. His first tactic was to insert mottos into the wrappers of the sweets (cf. Fortune cookies), but this had only limited success.

He was inspired to add the "crackle" element when he heard the crackle of a log he'd just put on the fire. The size of the paper wrapper had to be increased to incorporate the banger mechanism, and the sweet itself was eventually dropped, to be replaced by a small gift. The new product was initially marketed as the Cosaque (i.e., Cossack), but the onomatopoeic "cracker" soon became the commonly used name, as rival varieties were introduced to the market. The other elements of the modern cracker, the gifts, paper hats and varied designs, were all introduced by Tom Smith's son, Walter Smith, as ways of distinguishing the company from the many copycat cracker manufacturers which had suddenly sprung up.

In popular culture

In the wizarding world of Harry Potter, wizards have crackers similar to those used by Muggles but with a much more powerful bang (described as being like a cannon blast) and more interesting prizes such as a captain's hat, a 'Grow-Your-Own-Warts Kit', live white mice, non-exploding balloons and a magical chess set.

In The US version of The Office, in the second season and onwards the character Dwight can be seen to be in possession of several Christmas crackers in and around his desk, although they are never mentioned or displayed for much longer than a few seconds. Information about the origins of this possible inside joke is scarce, some saying it is an intentional reference to a real life incident Rainn Wilson had with crackers during the filming of the first season.

The MMORPG RuneScape released "Christmas Crackers" as a drop during the 2001 Christmas season. It required two players to open. One player would get a colored party hat, the other would get a random item. They were "discontinued" after the end of the year, but the items remained in-game for players to keep. As time passed, many people dropped, lost, or sold theirs, and it quickly became a valuable item. They are now the rarest and most expensive item in the game, with an estimated 100 remaining.

In Graham Greene's novel, Doctor Fischer of Geneva, one of the eponymous character's tests is centered around Christmas crackers.

External links

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