Saturday, December 23, 2023


By Mary Davis

A Victorian English Tradition


Have you ever heard of them?

Author Image

As these started in England, most in the US haven’t experienced them.


I learned of these fifteen years ago from an English friend. She said she would bring Christmas Crackers to our Christmas party. I wondered if they were tasty.


From that first experience, I loved them! So, this year, with having both of my kids and their families for Christmas, I got a set at World Market. It’s going to be fun!


The first thing you need to know is that Christmas Crackers are not food, and you CANNOT eat them. Please don’t even try.

From Bonbon to Cosaque to Cracker


Though they started as a bonbon, a sugared almond you could eat, the cracker quickly evolved into a party favor with no edible parts.


We have English confectioner Thomas Smith (1823-1869) to thank for these.

Thomas Smith

In 1840, he visited France and discovered sugared almonds and other sweets wrapped in tissue paper twisted at both ends—bonbons. Smith brought this idea back to England and sold them in his shop. They were very popular at Christmas, but sales quickly dropped off after the holiday. He wanted a new promotional idea, so he added love messages inside the wrapper. Most of these were given by men to their sweethearts. These quotes or simple poems were marketed in Britain as “kiss mottoes”. But sales again crashed after Christmas.


The legend goes that he was sitting by his fire, and when he added a log, it cracked. He wanted that sound in his next variation. He came upon a friction-activated, silver-fulminate explosion to create the pop he was after. He would need to make his product bigger to accommodate the device but wanted to keep the shape.


With a cardboard tube, candy, quote, and noise mechanism all wrapped in colorful paper twisted at the ends, Smith had his first “cracker” in 1860, which was still called a bonbon. Two people each held one end and pulled until it popped and the goodies were exposed.

Smith Crackers 1911

Sales skyrocketed with the added excitement of the sound. He renamed his product “cosaque” after the sound of Russian Cossacks on horseback shooting off their guns or cracking their whips. He then added a small toy, trinket, or gift to the contents, and eventually the candy was eliminated.


The name cosaque quickly got changed by the public to “cracker” because of the sound. The name stuck.


With other companies copying his idea and shipping to the British market, Smith wanted something else to make his stand out from the others. He created eight different kinds and flooded the market in time for Christmas.


When he died at age 46 on March 13, 1869, he left his company to his three sons, Tom, Henry, and Walter.

Norman Rockwell image - wikipedia

The “kiss mottoes” got replaced by topical notes, witticisms, and snappy, relevant maxims that referenced important events like Tutankhamen and popular crazes like Jazz. Eventually, they contained really bad, eye-rolling jokes or riddles. Son Walter added the paper crowns found in the cracker to go with the toy/gift and joke.


The company grew to where it could fulfill special orders for companies and individuals. Their records show that they constructed a six-foot cracker for Euston Station in London. In 1927, a gentleman wanted to make his proposal unique. He wrote a letter with a diamond engagement ring and a ten shilling note for the ring to be put inside a special cracker for his fiancée. Sadly, he didn’t include a return address and never contacted the company again. All three (letter, ring, & money) are reportedly still in the company’s possession.

Pulled Cracker -- Author Image

I got a mini ring toss in this one.

The jokes and trivia are:

     Q: What’s a dog’s favourite Carol?

     A: Bark the Herald Angels Sing

     Q: Why did the pony have to gargle?

     A: Because it was a little horse


     Q: How many holes are there in a full round of golf?

     A: 18


Crackers have been made to honor all sorts of events and people: war heroes, the wireless radio, motoring, coronations, the Channel Tunnel in 1914, aviation, votes for women, scouting, and the Paris Exhibition, to name a few. Exclusive ones were created for Royal Family members and still are.


During WWII, manufacturing was banned. The snap devices inside the crackers were used in military training to simulate gunfire. After the war, a plethora of snaps were released back into the cracker market. Sales again skyrocketed.


The Tom Smith Company survived three fires, one in the 1930s, another during the 1941 London Blitz, and the final one in 1963.


They have merged with several companies over the decades and are currently manufactured by Brite Spark using the brand name of “Tom Smith”.


Apparently, you can make your own Christmas Crackers. However, a main obstacle for us US residents is that the British Royal Mail won’t ship the internal snapping mechanism, and the US mail considers them an explosive. Technically, they are because it is a micro “explosion” that makes the snapping noise. If you are an adventurous person, you could choose to use this guy’s method for making a “snapper”. I probably won’t try it this year, but I might next.

In the centre of Duns, Scotland, a giant cracker “tin” collects funds for Christmas lights.

If there isn’t too much grousing from my family, I might make Christmas Crackers a holiday tradition. Who am I kidding? I won’t let their grousing stop me. =0D


Here are a few of the bad jokes you might find inside a cracker.


Q: What do you call Santa’s little helpers?

     A: Subordinate clauses!


Q: Why was the snowman rummaging in a bag of carrots?

     A: Because he was picking his nose!


Q: Why are Christmas trees so bad at sewing?

     A: Because they keep dropping their needles!


Q; Why was the advent calendar afraid?

     A: Because its days were numbered!


Q: What did the gingerbread man put on his bed?

     A: A cookie sheet!


Q: What do you call a bunch of chess players bragging about their games in a hotel lobby?

     A: Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer!


Q: What’s the name of the one horse in “Jingle Bells”?

     A: Bob! (Bells on Bob’s tail ring.)


Find more Christmas jokes HERE.

Have a safe and wonderful Christmas!



Historical Romance Series

By Mary Davis

THE WIDOW’S PLIGHT (Book1) – Will a secret clouding a single mother’s past cost Lily her loved ones?

THE DAUGHTER’S PREDICAMENT (Book2) *SELAH & WRMA Finalist* – As Isabelle’s romance prospects turn in her favor, a family scandal derails her dreams.

THE DAMSEL’S INTENT (Book3) *SELAH Winner* – Nicole heads down the mountain to fetch herself a husband. Can she learn to be enough of a lady to snag the handsome rancher?

THE DÉBUTANTE’S SECRET (Book4) – Complications arise when a fancy French lady steps off the train and into Deputy Montana’s arms.


MARY DAVIS, bestselling, award-winning novelist, has over thirty titles in both historical and contemporary themes. Her latest release is THE LADY’S MISSION. Her other novels include THE DÉBUTANTE'S SECRET (Quilting Circle Book 4) THE DAMSEL’S INTENT (The Quilting Circle Book 3) is a SELAH Award Winner. Some of her other recent titles include; THE WIDOW'S PLIGHT, THE DAUGHTER'S PREDICAMENT, “Zola’s Cross-Country Adventure” in The MISSAdventure Brides Collection, Prodigal Daughters Amish series, "Holly and Ivy" in A Bouquet of Brides Collection, and "Bygones" in Thimbles and Threads. She is a member of ACFW and active in critique groups.

Mary lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband of thirty-seven years and one cat. She has three adult children and three incredibly adorable grandchildren. Find her online at:
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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for telling us about the history of this novelty. I've never seen one. Merry Christmas to you and yours!