Twelve Traditions of Christmas, Pt 3 – Christmas Crackers and Mistletoe

Christmas Crackers

A French Bon Bon and a crackle from a fire became the accidental inspiration for the Christmas Cracker just over 150 years ago.

If Tom Smith, a baker from London, had not taken a trip to Paris we would not have the customary fun of pulling these noisy table decorations apart.  There would be no silly colourful paper hats, terrible jokes on small pieces of paper or little novelty gifts to keep us amused.  Some people might think this would be a good thing!

I would love to know what your favourite cracker joke and gift is!

Anyway, back to Tom Smith… he was always on the look out for inspiration and ways he could make his produce more exciting and interesting, he travelled abroad a lot searching for new ideas and in 1847 he travelled to Paris.

Whilst in Paris he came across a little almond sweet wrapped in tissue paper, twisted at each end.  Tom took some Bon Bons back to London with him and found that they sold very well over the Christmas period.  However, he found that his customers lost interest in them in January and decided to find a way of making them more interesting.

Over the next seven years Tom worked on developing these interesting little sweets.  His first idea was to place little pieces of paper inside the tissue wrapping, the notes took the form of ‘love notes’.  He also decided to work by ‘word of mouth’ and began encouraging his customers to buy more than they had intended to.

Tom’s tactic worked, orders and sales improved and he began to make a profit.  He was able to employ more staff, this meant he could also concentrate on developing his Bon Bon idea further.

One day he threw a log on his fire and this simple act gave him his ‘eureka’ moment.  The log crackled and Tom decided that this noise would be the perfect addition to his development of the Bon Bons.  He began to experiment with the ‘crackle’ idea and the perfect size to accompany the mechanism.

The original name for the cracker was Cosaques, they made him very famous and his business grew.  Tom Smith Group is still producing crackers today.  It gained a royal warrant and still produces crackers for the royal household today.

Here’s a video on how to make your own cracker!

Also, although not actually anything to do with Christmas Crackers, here is a link to Byard Art in Cambridge.  Their latest art exhibition is called Christmas Cracker 2011 and will be well worth a look if you are around Cambridge in the next few days!


Why is it traditional to kiss someone under a sprig of mistletoe during the festive season?  You may wonder this when you find yourself in the position of having to fend someone off you really wish you hadn’t met under a sprig!

In European folklore mistletoe is seen as a mysterious and sacred plant.  Our ancestors saw it as a plant that gave life and had aphrodisiac qualities, ensuring fertility.  Mistletoe is also associated with the Goddess Frigga.  Frigga was the mother of Balda, God of the summer sun.

Hanging mistletoe was originally hung to ward off evil spirits and witches.  However, the custom of kissing under the mistletoe began with the Greeks who celebrated a festival called Saturnalia, the festival would begin with the ritual of kissing under the sacred mistletoe.

In the 18c young ladies would stand under a sprig of mistletoe and hope that they would be kissed.  A lady could not refuse as if kissed this would mean she would find romance or a lasting friendship.  It was thought that if a lady remained unkissed she would not marry during the following year!

Mistletoe, although associated with Christmas, can be used all year.  You can find out more about mistletoe here


About Maria Explores...

Blogger and Freelance Writer
This entry was posted in Cambridge, Customs and Traditions, History and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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