Christmas crackers were part and parcel of all my childhood Christmases in Ireland. My sisters and I loved playing with these festive, popping, paper tubes before we tucked into our Christmas dinner.
On Christmas Day our place settings always included a Christmas cracker lovingly laid above our spoons. Patiently waiting to start our cracker games, we admired the glittering favors on our yuletide table.
Once we all sat down to dinner the cracker wars began. Crackers can be pulled in a sedate and genteel manner seated beside a table, but that would have been too lady like for cracker fanatics. We stood face-to-face, with feet placed strategically apart, to create maximum pulling advantage.
Holding firmly to my end, I pulled with all my might. With eyes closed tightly I valiantly fought my Christmas cracker battles.
The loud explosive crackle of our gleeful paper tearing signaled time to open my eyes. Sheer delight followed if I held the larger half of the tube, with all its hidden surprises, which were usually found scattered all over the dining room floor.
Now truth be told these hidden surprises were little more than plastic tricky trackies. A corny joke on a little rectangular piece of paper was wrapped around a neatly folded colored paper crown.
Here’s a quick question for all my Irish readers –
Have you have ever eaten your Christmas dinner
with a brightly colored paper crown adorning your head?
I’m quite certain every Irish photo album contains a few pictures of relatives wearing Christmas cracker hats at the dinner table.
As I started to reminisce about Christmas crackers I realized I have no idea when and how they came to be. I guessed they are an English, Victorian innovation, so I took to the internet to discover the “truth”.
Christmas crackers are indeed an English invention, and were first created by a Victorian gentleman and sweet maker called Tom Smith.
During a trip to Paris he was impressed by French bon-bon sweets, which were beautifully wrapped almonds with a joke printed inside. He tried selling ‘bon-bon’s” in England, but they simply didn’t catch on.
One evening as he sat by his warm fire, watching the logs sparking and crackling, a brain wave struck. Why not place the sweets with little toys inside a paper tube that popped once opened.
Tom’s cracker business was born and it was a resounding success. His three sons, Tom, Walter and Henry, eventually took over the business, and Walter introduced the now-obligatory paper crowns, which may symbolize the Wise Kings who visited Jesus in the manger.
I bought Christmas crackers for my children last year for the very first time. They were a resounding success. They absolutely LOVED them.
This year they keep asking me if we are going to have Christmas crackers again.
And so, in 2014 I plan to continue our little Irish Christmas cracker tradition.
From this year onwards our Christmas table setting will not be complete without a lovingly placed Christmas cracker above the spoon.
Wishing you all happy Christmas cracker pulling contests this year.
Nollaig Shona Daoibh
Irish American Mom
P.S. Purchasing Christmas Crackers In America
I have purchased Christmas crackers in Target and World Market in the past, but I found their stocks were limited.
A quick disclosure note: The link below is an affiliate link and I will receive a commission if you choose to make a purchase using this link. Thanks in advance if you do utilize this link for your Irish shopping.
For online purchases of Christmas crackers check out the Food Ireland website.. They have a wonderful selection of Irish goodies which can be shipped throughout the United States.