Let’s be clear – that is craic, not crack. In Ireland, we have a few Christmas staples that have not crossed the Atlantic in a significant way, and one of them is the traditional Christmas cracker. This is not an hors d’oeuvre. The last thing you’d want to do with these is eat them.
A Christmas cracker is a wrapped tube containing a few small things. Two people compete to get the goodies within by each pulling one end, a bit like pulling a wishbone. When the cracker pops open, it really pops and makes a loud cracking noise. One person will get the tube and its contents, while the other winds up with just the end of some wrapping paper.
Like the Christmas card, the Christmas cracker was a creation of the Victorians. Well, one specific Victorian by the name of Tom Smith usually gets the credit. He was an inspired and innovative confectioner determined to bring something new and exciting to the world of candy.
He could also be credited with being one of the first people to realize the importance of packaging in marketing. Today, crackers don’t generally contain sweets. It’s the packaging that has become a holiday staple.
All You Need to Know about Christmas Crackers
Shops in Ireland and the UK are full of Christmas crackers now, and for most Irish people it just doesn’t feel like Christmas without them. There’s a huge variety on offer ranging from cheap and cheerful to deluxe, but they most contain variations of the same things. That’s what makes it tradition! There are three essential elements to the modern cracker – a paper crown, a piece of paper with a bad joke and a small toy or trinket.
The two places for Christmas crackers are in the branches of the Christmas tree and in the place settings for the Christmas dinner. The appeal to children is obvious, but you won’t see too many adults sit back and let the Christmas crackers pass them by. They really are a tradition the whole family enjoys together. And yes, the winner wears the paper crown.
One option for Irish diaspora around the world who want to make Christmas crackers part of their family’s holiday tradition is to make some DIY ones. Thankfully, there is plenty of advice online about how to do it from experts such as Jamie Oliver and Martha Stewart, who points out it is a great way to use up those small bits of left over wrapping paper.
A bonus of making your own crackers is that you can put whatever you like into them, such as jokes you can tolerate hearing your small children repeat thousands of times over their school break. Of course, you also put a romantic twist on this tradition and make a Christmas cracker to hold a special gift for a loved one such as jewelry. That’s an idea that might get more than a cracking sound and a few laughs. (Just remember to keep the jewelry in its gift box to keep it safe.)