The origin of Christmas crackers and other festive words

Posted by ap507 at Dec 15, 2014 03:40 PM |
Professor Julie Coleman examines how baubles, mince pies and more have been viewed and enjoyed throughout the centuries

Pull on a Christmas cracker this year and you’ll likely receive a set of mini screwdrivers, a paper-thin party hat and a cheesy joke suggesting that the Father Christmas of the cat world is in fact named ‘Santa Paws’.

According to Professor Julie Coleman (pictured) from the School of English, if we were to step back in time Christmas crackers would have held a different purpose than to titillate audiences with a few minutes of entertainment while waiting for the yule log to be brought out of the kitchen after polishing off the turkey.

Christmas Crackers
Credit: Wikipedia; Christmas crackers
Invented by the Victorians in the 1840s, Christmas crackers were once full to the brim with colourful sweets that would erupt like a modern-day piñata when pulled. This novel approach was a new marketing campaign by a London sweet maker called Tom Smith whose earlier attempts to sell candy attractively wrapped, as in France, had met with limited success.

By placing sweets into tubes that could be pulled to create an exciting ‘bang’, Smith made Christmas crackers a surprise hit and they found their way onto dinner tables across the country – and later throughout the world.

In the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), Christmas crackers have been recorded in our current sense since this time, and many other modern festive words and paraphernalia can be dated back to the Victorian period and beyond, in some cases developing very different meanings over time.

Professor Coleman said: “Today’s Christmas comes wrapped in layers of words and customs from Christmas past.”

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