It’s Not A Holiday Party Without Christmas Crackers

Christas Cracker Place Setting Name Card
PHOTO: ALISON GOOTEE

Though the Christmas cracker originated across the pond, this is one holiday tradition we’ve come to love stateside, too. From the decorative wrappings to the little treats inside, the excitement of popping open one of these festive snappers is a fun tradition that makes a whimsical addition to place settings and party favors this time of year. But, before you embark on adding this to your holiday hosting repertoire, it’s important to know a little background. After all, sharing the tradition is one thing, but being the one holding court while enlightening your partygoers on the roots of this British holiday favorite is quite another.

What Is a Christmas Cracker?

The Christmas cracker is a long-standing holiday tradition that began in England in the mid-19th century. Over 175 years later, the cylindrical treats remain a popular party favor just about any time of year, but especially during the holiday season when revelers eagerly “pop” the paper opens to reveal treats and trinkets tucked inside. The cylindrical treats can be found year-round with themes that play to a variety of occasions, whether birthdays, holidays, or anniversaries, though they’re particularly popular during the Christmas season.

Who Invented the Christmas Cracker?

According to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, the Christmas cracker was invented by Tom Smith, a British baker and confectioner, in 1847. During a trip to Paris, he was struck by the country’s bonbons, inspiring his take on the sugared almond treat: each individually wrapped in a twist of tissue paper.

While his “bonbons” were especially popular during the holidays, Smith was on a mission to think bigger. He wanted to use these little treats to drive sales not just during the Christmas season, but year-round. In an effort to do just that, he took out the almonds and replaced them with little trinkets and treats. But even that wasn’t enough. Smith wanted to create a truly unique experience that people would clamor to get their hands on.

Inspiration ultimately came from the crackle of fireplace logs. It took some experimenting, but Smith eventually developed a way to create a safe (and small) friction-based explosion that resulted when the two ends of the cracker were pulled. The resulting cracker had to be larger than the original to accommodate the new feature, but the little messages and original shape of the bonbon (or, now, cracker), both beloved in their own right, still remain.

Smith’s bonbon business flourished into a regular holiday phenomenon that has carried on for over 175 years. Today the Tom Smith company still thrives, even holding the title of official supplier of Christmas crackers and wrapping paper to the British monarch.  

Where To Purchase Christmas Crackers

Over the years, countless brands have cashed in on the success of Smith’s crackers by developing their own take on the treats, though Tom Smith Crackers are still treasured as the original. They can be purchased from a variety of British retailers—just look for the Monarch seal to ensure they’re authentic.

For those looking for more budget-friendly options, there are plenty of varieties and retailers from which to choose. From Amazon to Williams-Sonoma and more, Christmas cracker retailers abound. A quick online search will return plenty of options to help get your holiday party off with a pop.