All the staff at Prickett & Ellis got together last Saturday for our Christmas Party – you can imagine it: welcoming drinks, happy faces and beautifully laid tables with a tube of coloured paper at every place. Yes, what would a Christmas celebration be without crackers?
But why do we expect to wear a paper hat (apparently even the Queen puts one on), create a bang and share a corny joke – what’s the story of the Christmas cracker?
Crackers have been a traditional part of British Christmas festivities and other celebrations since Victorian times. The most widely accepted story is that they were invented in the mid-1840’s by a London pastry cook named Tom Smith, who came upon the idea while on a trip to Paris where he enjoyed the French holiday custom of wrapping sugared almonds and other sweets in a twist of coloured paper called a ‘bon bon’. Smith had the idea of adding a romantic message in his early crackers which he marketed in Britain as “Kiss Mottoes”. However the product enjoyed only limited success until he had his winning idea!
At this time, the majority of ‘bon bons’ were still being sold at Christmas so Tom focused on this short but very profitable season and how he might make his ‘bon bons’ even more appealing. It was the crackle of a log in his fire one day that gave him the inspiration which eventually led to the cracker as we know it today. After a fair bit of experimentation Tom eventually came up with the idea of incorporating a friction activated chemical explosion into his product to produce the necessary ‘popping’ sound.
The chemical was silver fulminate, a compound discovered by the English chemist Edward Charles Howard (1774 – 1816) in 1800 and further developed in 1802 by the Italian chemistry professor, Luigi Valentino Brugnatelli (1761 – 1818). This became the cracker snap but the twist of paper needed to be bigger for it all to work so a tube of card became the main body, with pretty coloured paper trimmings – so Tom Smith’s Christmas Crackers were born.
It’s a simple idea – and really rather crazy. I mean who would have imagined that making an explosion in a paper tube would have been such a hit, but it was, just look at the size of his factory. And where was it? Not a million miles away in Finsbury – where his son erected a drinking fountain in Finsbury Square to commemorate the great man.
Tom exported his idea all over the world and today Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without one – even Sinbad the Sailor knows that! If you would like to hear the whole story click here for details of a book on the subject by Peter Kimpton http://www.thekingofcrackers.co.uk/