Choosing Christmas presents for individuals can be hard work, but not as hard as choosing gifts for a whole family. Which is what makes the cracker such a good Christmas present idea. We have become very used to tacky crackers full of tat, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Even making Christmas crackers really isn’t so hard – original Christmas gifts personalized for each family member. Family Christmas gifts don’t come any better. And if it seems a lot of work to make your own crackers, it’s also possible to buy them empty, and fill them yourself. Which at least takes care of the wrapping.
The Origins of the Christmas Cracker
The story of the Christmas cracker begins in the 1840s, which was when Christmas as we know it was invented. It is not going too far to say that Christmas began in 1843, when Charles Dickens enjoyed sensational success with A Christmas Carol, and when the first commercial Christmas cards went on sale.
Five years later, even Queen Victoria and Prince Albert got in on the act: the greatest Christmas icon of all became hugely popular after 1848, when an Illustrated London News woodcut showed the royal family gathered round their Christmas tree.
It was in 1847 that the embryonic Christmas cracker appeared, the brainchild of Tom Smith, a London confectioner. While on holiday in Paris in 1847, he was impressed by the French bon-bon, a sugared almond wrapped in waxed paper. Smith immediately saw the advantage over English sweets of the day, which were sold loose on trays.
Back in London, he reproduced the French idea, but soon improved on it: noting that young men liked to give bon-bons to their sweethearts, he added a love motto which he placed between the waxed paper and an outer wrapping.
But other confectioners were copying him, and Smith had to run to stay ahead. So he added a little gift such as a trinket, which necessitated a larger container – Smith chose a small tube. Attractively wrapped, the little tubes went on sale shortly before Christmas, and made unusual Christmas presents. And then he had the idea which made the Christmas cracker unique.
It seems that the crackling of a log in the fireplace put into his head the notion of pulling the little package apart with a bang. It took him some time to perfect the invention, but the Bangs of Expectation, which went on sale in 1860, achieved instant success as truly original Christmas gifts. Perhaps the best Christmas present idea ever.
Unusual Christmas Presents: Make Your Own Crackers
Thus the Christmas cracker was born. But since then, it has come down in the world. Today’s crackers are almost all mass-produced, and the gift they contain – along with the flimsy paper hat and the wonderfully bad joke – is good for five minutes of amusement at most. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
It’s not difficult to make your own crackers, and then put anything you like inside. Instead of a plastic whistle or a miniature yo-yo, it could be a diamond ring. Or a gold tie pin. Or a miniature bottle of brandy. Or . . . well, just about anything small enough. Making Christmas crackers is fun, and they don’t have to be cheap and tawdry. Home-made crackers can be unusual Christmas presents.
For those less keen on making Christmas crackers for themselves, it’s also possible to buy ready-made crackers and fill them with gifts of choice.
Christmas Crackers as Family Christmas Gifts
The great thing about Christmas crackers is that they are never just for one person. After all, it takes two to pull a cracker. So crackers with carefully-chosen gifts inside can make excellent family Christmas gifts. Perfume for Mum, cuff links for Dad, a pen knife for Jimmy and ear rings for Sally. Why not?
And when it comes to filling a cracker, original Christmas gifts might be a little easier to think of, because the restriction on size rules out so many of the dull old Christmas staples. No normal-sized cracker can contain the ill-chosen book, the boring socks, the hideous tie.
Crackers are a Christmas present idea with a difference. Infused with a bit of imagination, they can make attractive and unusual Christmas presents. A lot more fun than the obvious old things, they can make perfect family Christmas gifts.