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Project Britain

British Christmas Traditions
by Mandy Barrow

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Christmas Crackers

Woodlands Junior School is in the south-east corner of England

Christmas Crackers are very popular and accompany many meals over the Christmas period, especially on Christmas Day.

What is a Christmas Cracker? | How to pull a Christmas cracker

Why do we wear king's paper crowns? | History of Christmas Crackers

What is a Christmas Cracker?

A Christmas Cracker is a brightly coloured paper tube, twisted at both ends. A person pulls on each end of the cracker and when the cracker breaks, a small chemical strip goes “Pop” and the contents fall out. copyright of

Christmas Cracker
Christmas Cracker on a plate

Crackers are very traditional items to have at Christmas.

What is inside a Christmas Cracker?

image: paper crownA Christmas cracker traditionally contains a paper crown, a small gift and a joke written on a slip of paper.

The gift in a cracker depends on how much you have paid for the cracker.The more you pay the better the quality of the gift.

A box of 12 crackers costing £10 could come with gifts such as a shoe horn, compact mirror, playing cards, screwdrivers, address book, tape measure, pad lock, bottle opener, tweezers, travel chess, photo frame and pen.© copyright of

How to pull a cracker

The traditional way to pull a cracker is crossing your arms and ..

image: pulling a cracker

... pulling a whole circle of crackers around the table.

image: pulling a cracker

Everyone holds their cracker in their right hand and pulls their neighbours cracker with the free left hand.

image: holding a cracker

Why do we wear king's paper crowns?

Paper CrownWe wear paper hats on special occasions like Christmas Day and birthday parties. The tradition of wearing hats at parties goes back to the Roman Saturnalia celebrations (celebrated around 25 December) when the participants also wore hats. © copyright of

The idea of wearing a paper crown may have originated from the Twelfth Night celebrations, where a King or Queen was appointed to look over the proceedings. copyright of

The paper crown hats we wear today are found inside the Christmas crackers. copyright of


History of Christmas Crackers

Who invented the Christmas Cracker?

Christmas crackers were invented by Thomas Smith in 1846.

During a visit to Paris he came across the bob-bon, a sugar almond wrapped in tissue paper (with a twist either side of the centrally placed sweet). Thomas decided to try selling similarly wrapped sweets in the lead up to Christmas in England. His bon-bons sold well at Christmas but not at other times of the year.

In the early 1850s Thomas came up with the idea of including a motto with the sweet. As many of his bon-bons were bought by men to give to women, many of the mottos were simple love poems. © copyright of

In about 1860, Thomas added the banger, two strips of chemically impregnated paper that made a loud noise on being pulled apart. At first these novelties were called 'cosaques', but they soon became known as 'crackers'.

Unfortunately for Thomas, his 'cracker' idea was copied by other manufactures and so he decided to replace the sweet with a surprise gift. © copyright of

When Thomas died his two sons took over the business. The paper hat was added to the cracker the early 1900s and by the end of the 1930s the love poems had been replaced by jokes or limericks. © copyright of


Comment from a visitor about Crackers

Thank you for this very good lesson on what is a Christmas cracker.  We have watched a few  movies over the years that have scenes from Christmas as celebrated in the UK. (Movies like Love Actually, Pirate Radio, etc). We noticed that at Christmas dinner table, there is always someone wearing a paper crown. We could never figure out what this was for since we don't do the same thing in America. Now, thanks to your page we have learned.

Also a childhood memory of mine has been stirred. My grandmother, whose mother was from Wales and emmigrated to Salt Lake City, would always have taffy for us with twisted paper ends. I had not thought about that in years!

Happy New Years!
Kathleen L

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Mandy is the creator of the Woodlands Resources section of the Woodlands Junior website. 
The two websites and are the new homes for the Woodlands Resources.

Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consulatant. 
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.