A cracker of an idea for Christmas

It’s the question soon to be asked at every table in Britain “Shall we pull the crackers before, or after dinner?”

This curious tradition of pulling on a roll of coloured paper was invented in London 165 years ago by Tom Smith.

Starting work at an ornamental confectioner’s Tom would experiment on producing more sophisticated designs of wedding cake decorations than was being sold by his employers. It wasn’t long before he branched out on his own setting up a business in Goswell Road producing confectionery products. Travelling widely in 1840 on a trip to Paris he discovered the ‘’Bon Bon’, a sugared almond wrapped in a twist of tissue paper. This simple confection which proved popular in London at Christmas would evolve into the cracker we know today.

His next improvement to the French ‘Bon Bon’ was to wrap a small love motto inside the tissue paper as a means to extend the sale of the sweet beyond Christmas.

It was the crackle of a wood fire that gave Tom the idea of turning, what was essentially a love token, into something which would appeal to a wider buying public.

After much experimentation, he perfected a means to produce a bang when opening the ‘Bon Bon’. Orders flooded in and the shape was refined to the one we would recognise today, renamed a ‘’cosaque’ the sweet was replaced with a surprise gift.

To fight overseas competition eight designs of cracker were produced and orders flooded in necessitating a move from Goswell Road to larger premises in Finsbury Square, where incredibly the factory remained until 1953.

Finsbury SquareIt was in Finsbury Square that Tom’s son Walter had a drinking fountain erected in memory of his mother – Mary. Although in need of a good clean the fountain can still be seen today in the square.

Crackers were produced for specific occasions: Tutankhamen, war heroes, Charlie Chaplin, the Coronation.

Today they manufacture Christmas crackers in Norwich, and the simple almond sweet had been replaced by corny jokes and puns, metal puzzles and a paper hat that only your Dad would want to wear at the Festive dinner table.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 18th December 2012

6 thoughts on “A cracker of an idea for Christmas”

  1. I hadn’t realised that Christmas Crackers were virtually unknown in the USA until an American purchaser of my story-verse, “A Year Before Christmas” commented on my dedication to a deceased dog (who wasn’t afraid of Christmas Crackers). Thanks for this timely explanation – I’ve reblogged for the enlightenment of my US readers at Christmas.
    Have a cool yule yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the post it is a very interesting story. Something we take for granted as a standard part of Christmas like everything else had to start somewhere and began life as someone’s idea.


What do you have to say for yourself?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s