While many Christmas traditions remain the same across the world — there's almost always a Santa-like figure bringing gifts — there are some holiday festivities that are pretty regionally specific. In the United Kingdom, for example, one classic Christmas tradition is the popping of Christmas crackers. And it turns out that the Victorian-era tradition is more popular than ever.
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In data shared with Hunker, Etsy reports a 203% YoY increase in searches for Christmas crackers during the lead-up to Christmas (October through December), demonstrating a growing demand for the holiday activity. But what exactly is a Christmas cracker, and how did the tradition begin?
According to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Christmas crackers were invented by British baker Tom Smith in the 1840s. After seeing the bonbon, a paper-wrapped sweet in France, Smith brought the treat back to his Clerkenwell shop, selling it to a ravenous British crowd at Christmastime.
Over the years, Smith developed his Christmas bonbons further. He started by adding little love notes inside the wrapper, but then he decided to add a pop — literally. Reportedly inspired by the crackling of a fire, the baker added an explosive element, silver fulminate, to the wrapper so that when the ends were pulled apart, a loud pop would reveal the treat inside. He patented his first cracker in 1847.
Eventually, Christmas crackers were filled with far more than candy. Hand-cut paper hats and novelty trinkets from around the world became cracker fillings, while the love messages eventually turned into silly little jokes. The British public embraced the Christmas crackers as tradition, setting them on dinner plates to be opened during Christmas fêtes. Typically, two people split a cracker together, each grabbing one end of the wrapper — whoever ends up with the larger piece gets the prize inside.
Today, Christmas crackers contain all sorts of little gifts inside, from beauty products to pet toys. (Some of the more luxurious crackers don't actually pop — they're just packaged in a Christmas-cracker shape!) You can even find eco-friendly alternatives.
Though the tradition is still most popular in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth nations, Christmas crackers can be enjoyed all over the world. Shop some of our favorites below!
Stefanie is a New York–based writer and editor. She has served on the editorial staffs of Architectural Digest, ARTnews, and Oyster.com, a TripAdvisor company, before setting out on her own as a freelancer. Her beats include architecture, design, art, travel, science, and history, and her words have appeared in Architectural Digest, Condé Nast Traveler, Popular Science, Mental Floss, Galerie, Jetsetter, and History.com, among others. In another life, she'd be a real estate broker since she loves searching for apartments and homes.