Christmas Cracker History

Discover The Fascinating Origin Of Christmas Crackers

Christmas cracker on table at Gorse Hill in Surrey

When we think of Christmas a few cherished traditions come to mind: twinkling lights, festive decorations and of course, the iconic Christmas cracker.

We absolutely love the festive season here at Gorse Hill, and crackers are a must-have on our Christmas party tables. 

The cracker first originated in England but it's now used all over the world to celebrate Christmas and other festive occasions.

Get ready for an adventure through time as we we delve into the captivating history of Christmas crackers.

Who Invented The Christmas Cracker?

The famous Christmas cracker was created during the Victorian times by Tom Smith, who was a confectioner and baker in London.

Born in 1823, Smith established his confectionery and bakery shop on Goswell Road in Clerkenwell during the 1840s. 

He specialised in creating wedding cakes and sweets. However it was a fateful journey to the city of Paris that sparked the idea behind the iconic Christmas cracker.

Smith stumbled upon a delightful confection known as the 'bon bon.' These sweet treats were sugared almonds, carefully wrapped in a twist of tissue paper.

These delightful confections became a holiday sensation and in a bid to boost sales throughout the year, Smith included a tiny love motto within each wrapper.

The inspiration to add the surprising 'pop' to the Christmas cracker was supposedly sparked by the crackling sound of a log fire.

people pulling christmas crackers

Crafting The Perfect Cracker

In 1847, Tom Smith created his first cracker device, but it took until the 1860s for him to perfect it. 

This spectacular invention worked by sandwiching two thin paper strips together. One side had silver fulminate painted on it, and the other had a rough surface. When you pulled it apart the friction made a little explosion happen.

To make sure no one could copy his idea, Smith's company came up with different cracker designs. The company marketed these crackers as something fun and unusual for all sorts of celebrations.

Then Tom Smith's son Walter came into the picture. He added paper hats to the crackers and sourced interesting toys and gifts from Europe, America, and Japan. This then made the crackers even more exciting for people. The love mottos were eventually replaced with jokes or limericks. 

Crackers became a big hit amongst people and the business grew rapidly. They moved to a larger premises in Finsbury Square and by the 1890s, they had employed 2,000 people.

By the 1920s Tom Smith's Christmas crackers were advertised as "World Renowned Christmas Crackers. No party complete without them." 

However, the path of this festive novelty faced a formidable obstacle during the Second World War due to paper rationing and restrictions of cracker snaps.

christmas crackers

The Christmas Cracker Legacy Lives On

Fast forward to the 1950s and 1960s you'd find Tom Smith & Co. back in full swing, producing an astonishing 30,000 crackers each week. 

Even today the Tom Smith brand's legacy continues as they're still producing luxury crackers, including special ones exclusively for the Royal Household.

What Are Christmas Crackers?

A Christmas cracker is a cardboard tube wrapped in vibrant paper and twisted at both ends. 

It contains a special element known as a "banger," which consists of two strips of paper treated with chemicals that create a loud bang when the cracker is pulled apart by two people. 

Inside the cracker, you'll usually find a paper crown made from tissue paper, a witty motto or joke and a small gift.

Nowadays lots of people like to craft their own Christmas crackers so they can put special stuff inside that's just right for their loved ones.

What Is The Tradition Of The Christmas Cracker?

Traditionally people pull crackers during their Christmas meal or at Christmas parties. Often the person who gets the bigger part of the cracker gets to keep what's inside the cardboard tube.

If there's a group at the table they can all join in by crossing their arms and pulling all the crackers together at once. Each person holds their cracker in their right hand and uses their free left hand to pull their neighbour’s cracker.

festive lunch and christmas crackers at gorse hill in woking


We hope you enjoyed learning about the history of Christmas crackers. 

We're big fans of Christmas crackers at Gorse Hill as they're a hit amongst guests at our renowned Christmas Party Nights in Surrey.

If you enjoyed this read we invite you to explore more Christmas related reads from our sister property like "What Is Twixmas" and "Who Invented The Christmas Wreath."


Frequently Asked Questions Related To: Christmas Cracker History

Q: What is the purpose of crackers at Christmas?
A: Crackers are commonly used as decorations at individual place settings and are often opened before the meal.  During Christmas crackers can also be lovely decorations for your Christmas tree or great small gifts to put in stockings or give to friends and family who come to visit.

Q: When was Christmas crackers invented?
A: A London confectioner and baker named Tom Smith came up with the idea for Christmas crackers in 1847. However, it wasn't until the 1860s that he perfected the concept.

Q: What do British people do with Christmas crackers?
A: Each person grabs one end of the cracker and pulls, or if there's a group at the table, everyone can cross their arms and pull all the crackers together at the same time.

Q: What do you put in a Christmas cracker?
A: Traditionally, inside a Christmas cracker you will find a paper crown made from tissue paper, a witty motto or joke and a small gift.

Q: What Countries Use Christmas Crackers?
A: The Christmas Cracker first originated in England but today it's used in many different countries like Ireland and Australia to celebrate Christmas and other festive occasions.

Q: What is a Christmas cracker UK?
A: A Christmas Cracker is like a colourful cardboard tube which is twisted at both ends. Inside there's a "banger." When two people pull the cracker apart, it creates a "bang.”

Q: How old do you have to be to buy Christmas crackers in England?
A:  You need to be at least 12 years old to purchase Christmas crackers.