By Charlene Rashkow
More than 150 years ago a simple tradition was born in Great Britain that continues to be an important part of the British Christmas to this day. I came upon this fascinating piece of information purely by accident when it was inspired by a client that I write for in England.
It all began during Thanksgiving week when my newest and most fun loving long distance client commissioned me to write some promotional material for her. She sent me a few suggestions as to what direction she was heading and asked me to keep in mind that it was to have a Christmas theme. Hence, she thought it would be a good idea to include something about "Pulling Crackers." I thought at first that she had gone crackers as I hadn't a clue as to what Pulling Crackers meant. Not wanting to appear too stupid I went online to my trusty search engine and wrote in the words Christmas Crackers. To my pleasant surprise there were quite a few web sites explaining Crackers and with that a whole new world opened up for me.
I soon discovered that it was in 1847 when a gentlemen by the name of Tom Smith invented this unique and unusual ditty. A Cracker is a small cardboard tube covered in brightly colored twists of paper. Inside the Cracker is the fun part. Two people take hold of the Cracker at each end and pull. The friction creates a small 'pop' which ingeniously is produced by a narrow strip of chemically impregnated paper. Out pops a bright paper hat, a small gift, a balloon, a motto or a joke. The contents within each Cracker is tailored for the occasion and can contain masks, puzzles, jewels, games and mottoes. There are literally thousands upon thousands of Crackers to choose from.
After realizing his success at producing Christmas Crackers, Mr. Smith went on to produce crackers that celebrate every major occasion throughout Great Britain. When Tom Smith passed away his three sons carried on the tradition of Christmas Crackers and continue developing cracker designs, content and mottos for every holiday and celebration throughout the year. More than 150 people work in the main office and factory in Rickmansworth. Crackers are exported worldwide to 34 countries including the USA, Australia, South Africa, Hong Kong and Japan.
Today, although the majority of work in making crackers is automated, every single cracker still has the snap carefully placed by hand inside and filled with something special before closing. Some crackers are made entirely by hand and very elaborately designed.
Christmas would not be Christmas in Great Britain without crackers as they have become part of the significant festivities. Mr. Smith's crackers are still being pulled and enjoyed throughout the world and always an important part of the Christmas celebration in England.