Make your Own Christmas Crackers and Learn their History
It’s hard to imagine the end of Christmas lunch without pulling a cracker, indeed from the corny jokes to the paper hats they are undoubtedly part of our Christmas tradition and one we can thank the Victorians for.
It was back in the early 1830’s that a young boy called, Tom Smith started work in a bakers and ornamental confectioners shop in London, selling sweets such as fondants, pralines and gum pastilles. Whilst learning the trade he took a great interest in the wedding cake ornaments and decorations, and he began developing new designs in his spare time.
Through his dedication and ingenuity it wasn’t long before he was successful enough to start up his own business in Goswell Road, Clerkenwell, East London. Tom was constantly looking to feed his imagination and travelled abroad to search for new ideas and it was during one such trip to Paris in 1840 that he first discovered the ‘bon bon’, a sugared almond wrapped in a twist of tissue paper. It was a simple idea which, over the next seven years, would evolve into the Cracker.
Tom decided to bring the ‘bon bon’ to London and during Christmas that year they were a very popular novelty, but once Christmas passed so did the demand. Ever the entrepreneur, Tom was keen to extend and develop the ‘bon bon’ idea further and stimulate sales beyond the Christmas period; so he decided to place a small love motto in the tissue paper and he soon realised when these became popular that his ‘bon bons’ were a winning idea.
With ‘bon bons’ still being mainly sold at Christmas; Tom began to think up ways to make them more appealing and his flash of inspiration came when he heard the crackle of a log as he threw it on his fire; this noise was the insight that would put the crack in a cracker. Getting the right sort of crackle required a bit of experimentation, after all he needed a compound which gave a satisfactory bang but not an explosion. The shape and size of the ‘bon bon’ had to increase to accommodate the ‘cracking mechanism’ but the shape remained the same and the motto was still included. The chemical explosion was perfected to create a ‘pop’ caused by friction when the wrapping was broken which eventually became the snap and the cracker we know and love was born.
But Crackers are more than just frivolous novelties; they even did their bit for the war effort or rather the cracker snaps did. The Ministry of Defence commissioned Tom Smith to fold and tie bundles of three to six snaps together with special string and regulation knots. These bundles were then used by soldiers in training as, when the string was pulled, they mimicked the noise of machine gun fire.
Eager to make my own crackers I caught up with Cracker enthusiast Jane Godfrey who runs an artisan cracker making business called ‘Go Crackers’ (www.gocrackers.co.uk), to see if she could put me on the road to cracker making success. Once a nurse, Jane explained how she was “pulled” into the wonderful world of Crackers when she purchased the business in February this year. With the help of her sister Tanya, they make luxury, bespoke crackers, and just like Tom Smith they are inventive for as well as making Christmas Crackers they also make a range of crackers for Hen do’s and Weddings . It was their DIY kits, that caught my eye and I must say that having given these a try they are an enjoyable way of making professional looking cracker in a jiffy. The kit comes with everything you need and once you have the knack of it its child’s play.
Professional Cracker Making Tips from Jane Godfrey
If you are using Curling ribbon as your ties, use a stiff piece of cardboard, about cereal box size, wrap the ribbon around the width, then cut both sides- this eliminates the tricky curling while you try to cut the pieces, and ensures they are the same size.
Use “loom bands” to keep your hat, joke and gift together when putting them into crackers, it makes them all stay together and easier to slide into your barrel. The loom bands are just the right size, unlike other elastic bands which may have to be wound round a few times.
To Make Your Own Cracker
What you need
• A4-size wrapping paper
• Glue or Sellotape
• A kitchen roll barrel
• Thin ribbon
• A cracker snap
• Small luggage tag
• Gift or toy
1. Divide the A4-size paper into three by scoring it lightly. Cut up the kitchen-roll barrel into three parts, ensuring that one piece is slightly larger than the others. This will form the central part of the cracker
2. Next tape the snap into place by sticking the ends to the paper. Place the three parts of the barrel in the centre of each section of the paper next to the snap.
3. Using a tight grip and rolling away from yourself, roll the paper onto the barrel, tucking in the edges neatly. Then glue or tape the seam of the cracker.
4. Using a piece of thin ribbon, tie around the paper at the ends of the central section in the paper to create a neck at either end of the cracker
5. Add gifts, handwritten messages or jokes to the cracker by dropping them carefully into one end. Personalise your crackers by adding decorations such as bows and ribbons and name tags.
To Make a Victorian Style Cracker
What you will need:
Two sheets of Crepe Paper cut to A4 size
Glue and Sellotape
Loo Roll barrel
1. Place the two pieces of cut crepe paper on top of each other and then place the loo roll barrel lengthways in the centre of the paper
2. Tape the edges of the cracker snap in place next to the loo roll barrel
3. Grip the one edge of the crepe paper and rolling away from yourself, roll the paper onto the barrel, tucking in the edges neatly. Then secure the seams with a dap of glue or small piece of tape.
4. 4. Using a piece of thin ribbon, tie around the paper at one end of the central section in the paper to create a neck at the end of the cracker
5. Wrap a few sugared almonds in tissue paper and place them inside the cracker before securing the open end with ribbon as in stage 4.
6. Decorate with pretty ribbons and personalise with handwritten name tags.
Now no Christmas cracker would be complete without the bad jokes, so here are a few for you to savour.
What do you call a frozen elf hanging from the ceiling?
What do reindeer hang on their Christmas trees?
Why are Christmas trees so bad at sewing?
They always drop their needles!
What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire?
I hope that you will enjoy making your own crackers and the wonderful thing about home-made versions is that you can include whatever gifts you want and make them as personal as choose. Have fun and have a cracking Christmas!