Christmas Day is just a week away and hopefully we’re all starting to feel a little festive in anticipation of the annual yuletide celebrations.
One of the highlights of Christmas Day is, of course, a traditional Christmas dinner, and none would be complete without a Christmas cracker to pull. The tradition of Christmas crackers goes back more than 170 years, when they were invented in London by a businessman called Tom Smith, in 1847.
Tom made ‘bon-bon’ sweets, sold in a twist of paper, and was always on the lookout for new ideas to promote his products and boost sales. He had already come up with the notion of inserting ‘love messages’ into the wrappers so that amorous gentlemen might give Mr Smith’s bon-bons to their sweethearts. The idea to add a sound came when he heard a log crackling and popping on the fire.
The size of the paper was increased to incorporate a ‘banger’ mechanism, which would make a loud “crack!” when pulled apart. The new product was originally marketed all year round as a “Cossack”, but it soon became known as a cracker because of the sound it made. The other elements of a modern cracker – small gifts, a paper hat and a joke or riddle – were all added later by Tom’s son, Walter, as other manufactures tried to copy his father’s original design.
Over the years, crackers became particularly associated with Christmas as the tradition spread throughout the UK and then to Commonwealth countries where Britain had a strong influence, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Smith’s firm merged with a rival Christmas Cracker company in 1953 and continues to produce crackers to this day from its headquarters and factory in Norwich. A memorial water fountain dedicated to Tom Smith and his family stands in Finsbury Square, London, near his original premises.
Jokes found in Christmas crackers are notoriously cheesy, prompting as many theatrical groans as belly laughs around the Christmas table, but in many ways that is their charm. Just to get you in the Christmas spirit, here’s a handful to be going on with…
- What happened to the man who stole an advent calendar? He got 25 days!
- What’s the best Christmas present in the world? A broken drum… you just can’t beat it!
- What did they sing at the snowman’s birthday party? Freeze a jolly good fellow!
- How did Scrooge score the winning goal in the cup final? The Ghost of Christmas passed.
- Where did Rudolph the Reindeer go to school? Nowhere… he was elf-taught.
- How does Good King Wenceslas like his pizzas? Deep pan, crisp and even.
- What athlete is the warmest in winter? A long jumper.
- What do you get if you cross some bells with a skunk? Jingle smells.
- What did the stamp say to the Christmas card? Stick with me and we’ll go places.
- Why was the snowman looking through the carrots? He was busy picking his nose.
- Why did the Shetland pony have to gargle? Because it was a little horse.
- Why couldn’t the skeleton go to the Christmas party? He had no body to go with.
- Who hides in the bakery at Christmas? A mince spy
- What do vampires sing on New Year’s Eve? Auld Fang Syne.
- Why did Santa’s little helper see the psychiatrist? Because he had low elf-esteem.
- What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire? Frostbite
- And finally, what do you get if you cross Santa with a duck? A Christmas quacker!