10 Best Christmas Crackers
Christmas Crackers History
You must have watched this at least in the movies. On the Christmas-eve, a bonbon wrapper being tugged open ideally by two or more persons. The wrapper opens with a ‘crack’ and its contents fall out making the participants rejoice at the act.
The tradition of the Christmas Crackers go back a long way in the 1840s. As the story goes, a London Confectioner named Tom Smith was going on a business trip to Paris. En route he met a French confectioner who was selling sweets wrapped in a tissue like a bonbon. Tom Smith was deeply impressed and carried the idea back home to London. He bought some sugared almonds, wrapped them in tissues and started selling them just before Christmas. But Tom was not satisfied with just that. He was innovative and wanted to add more to his wrappers. He started by adding love mottos. Each wrapper had a love motto unique to it. The wrappers slowly gained importance and started to look exquisite. At some point of time, the sugared almonds were replaced by novelties. The novelty was not of much use but the person owning it felt like being gifted with a thing that can be treasured.
One day when Tom was sitting beside a log fire, he was fascinated by the constant crackling noise and contemplated on adding the sound to his wrappers. He thought that it would be “fun” if he could do so. The snap was already invented by then. It was done with the help of Fulminating silver in what was known as the “Waterloo Crackers”. Tom Brown an experimental chemist hit upon the idea of its construction and sold it to Tom Smith. But it took Tom almost two years to incorporate it to his wrappers. The wrappers had to be developed as well. The friction caused by pulling the wrapper apart produces a friction induced chemical explosion resulting in the crackling sound. So the first crackers were introduced and he called them ‘Cosaque’. The Cosaque is a French term used for the ‘Cossacks’. Some thought that the snap of the crackers resembled the sound of the whips of the Cossacks. The cosaque soon became popular as the onomatopoeic Cracker. This is how today’s Christmas Crackers were first invented.
The introduction of this sound increased his sales multiple folds. Tom wanted to export his unique invention and took it abroad. But an Eastern manufacturer copied his idea and brought their supplies to Britain. Tom took the challenge and developed 8 different varieties of crackers and over rode any competition. The original premises at Goswell Road were soon outgrown and the company shifted its base to Finsbury, London.
Tom Smith died at the age of 46, and the business was taken over by his three sons, Henry, Thomas and Walter. Some say that “A tradition is kept alive by adding something new to it”. Walter Smith, the youngest son, followed his father’s footsteps and left no stones unturned to give it the shape it has today. He started by adding paper hats to the crackers. These paper hats were made of the best quality tissue and decorative papers. Some of them even had hat maker stands. This ridged paper-hat resembled a crown and was known to mimic the ones worn by the three kings. The owner of the cracker is supposed to wear this crown during the Christmas dinner. The love mottos were also replaced by witty puzzles, riddles and jokes. He appointed special writers to do this job and they drew references from the most important events. Tom’s sons erected a drinking fountain in Finsbury Square in memory of their mother, Mary. Walter travelled the world and tried to add elements from the places he visited in the novelties that comprised the crackers. His innovative inclusions took Tom Smith’s Crackers to a different stature altogether. Tom Smith and co. catered to individuals and took company orders as well.
After the commencement of the 20th century, Tom Smith’s crackers were not restricted only to Christmas. They were now a part of every important occasion. From the Paris exhibition in 1900 to the War Heroes in 1918 to the World tour of Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales in 1926 the Crackers were everywhere a part of the celebrations. The contents of the cylindrical cardboard box, which had by then become the traditional design of the crackers, were tailor made to suit the theme of the occasion that was being graced. Exquisite crackers were even made for the members of the Royal family. The Tom Smith and Co was granted the first Royal Warrant in 1906. A six foot long cracker was created for the Euston Station in London.
An interesting story revolves around a man who had sent a diamond wedding ring and a 10 shilling note to the manufacturers to incorporate the wedding ring into one of their crackers as a gift to his fiancee. He never came to claim the cracker. Niether did he include his address where it had to be sent. The wedding ring the letter and the 10 shilling note is still in the safe custody of the company.
During the Second World War, Tom Smith and Co.was also commissioned by the Ministry of Defence to include three to six snaps together in crackers and bundle them with special strings and regulation knots for use by the defence personnel for training. The crackers imitated the sound of gun fire. After the war was over, the large surplus of crackers were released and they were now a part of the cracker trade that was back in business.
To meet the ever-increasing demand for the crackers, Tom Smith and Co.merged with Caley Crackers in 1953 and took over their headquarters in Norwich, East Anglia. This was followed by a series of merges in the years to come. Multiple fire outbursts in the factories couldn’t stop the spirit of Tom Smith. Tom Smith and Co. underwent a complete buyout in 1980s and ceased to exist independently in 1998 and became a part of the largest cracker manufacturers in the world, the Napier Industries. Today Tom Smith only exists as a brand under the International Greetings Plc and is produced by Brite Sparks.
The tradition that started off in the United Kingdom later spread to parts of Ireland and Commonwealth countries such as Australia, Canada, New-Zealand and South Africa. Today the crackers are sold in most of the countries around the world. The world’s largest cracker as recognized by the Guinness World Records measured 63.1 m (207 ft) long and 4 m (13 ft) in diameter and was made by the parents of children at Ley Hill School and Pre-School, Chesham, Buckinghamshire, UK on 20 December 2001 while the record for the longest Christmas cracker pulling chain was achieved by The Harrodian School (UK) in Barnes, London, UK, on 10 December 2015 and consisted of 1081 people.
Many of the stories that revolve around Tom Smith may be considered as myths and new stories might be developing every day. But that is why may be it sounds so interesting. If the story of Tom intrigues you, and you want to know more, you can always read Tom Smith’s Christmas Crackers- an illustrated history by the only cracker historian Peter Kimpton. Today a revised edition named “Christmas Crackers- Tom Smith’s Magical Invention” is readily available in all the leading online stores or you can get your copy from Peter’s website