When were the first Christmas crackers invented? History of the Christmas tradition explained

The first Christmas cracker was actually based on a French ‘bon bon’.

Thursday, 9th December 2021, 5:25 pm

No Christmas dinner is complete without the pop of Christmas crackers - and the flurry of tiny toys and colourful paper hats that follows.

Whether you prefer interesting bits of trivia or punny festive jokes, Christmas crackers are a tradition we have all come to know and love during Christmas dinner.

The first ever Christmas cracker looked quite different to the ones that we share with friends and family today.

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The Christmas cracker was inspired by the French 'bon bon' sweet

So where do these festive decorations come from and why has the tradition lasted so long?

Here is all you need to know about one of the nation’s favourite Christmas traditions.

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When were the first Christmas crackers invented?

The first ever Christmas cracker was invented by confectioner Tom Smith, at his sweet shop in Clerkenwell, London.

He had originally specialised in wedding cakes and confectionery, but was inspired by the French ‘bon bon’ - a tissue-wrapped, almond-flavoured sweet - to create a Christmas cracker.

In 1846, he produced his first version with a small note about love inside the wrapper.

By 1849 the almond sweet had been replaced by small toys and in the 1860s he had added the popping sound, inspired by the crackling of a log fire.

Even this early on, you can see the cracker evolving into a form closer to what we use today.

The cracker was not originally designed for Christmas dinner.

Instead, it was used to mark many different occasions, such as birthdays and weddings, and crackers were produced in a number of designs to suit their individual purposes.

Tom passed away in the 1880s, and his sons, Walter, Martin and Tom, took over.

They added paper tissue hats and other trinkets from traders in Europe, America and Japan.

By 1890, the family business had enjoyed such success that they moved premises to a larger site in Finsbury Square and employed 2,000 people.

How did crackers become a Christmas staple?

Following the success of Smith and his sons, other confectioners, such as Batger and Company, began producing their own take on the celebratory trend.

Smith’s success was largely attributed to his ability to follow crazes of the day, as crackers were decorated with illustrations of the likes of Charlie Chaplin, wireless radios, and, of course, Santa.

By the 1920s, Smith’s invention was advertised as "World Renowned Christmas Crackers. No party complete without them".

The crackers also came in decorative, stylish boxes, which became collectors’ items and are still highly sought after today.

Tom Smith has been the official provider of Christmas crackers to the royal household since 1906.

First serving the then Prince of Wales, Edward VII, Tom Smith group were then appointed as members of the Royal Warrant Holders Association in 1910, by the reigning monarch at the time, King George V.

The contents of the Queen’s cracker is top secret - though we don’t imagine they contain the usual knock-knock jokes.

You can also view the original boxes and catalogues of Tom Smith crackers at the VA museum in Dundee.

Nowadays, Christmas is pretty much the only time of year when crackers are used, having died out from being used at other times of the year.