crackers – bonkers, ridiculous, a bit mad.
So, the story goes that back in about 1850 Tom Smith, a confectioner in London, had tried selling his sweets wrapped in paper, like he had seen in the bon-bons in France. Sales didn’t go well, and dear old Tom was a bit down¹. Sitting in front of the fire one night, he listened to the logs crackling on the fire and it cheered him up, so he naturally thought ‘let’s make my sweets explode when you open them’. Because that’s the logical thing to do, no? Turns out, he was right and sales went through the roof².
The exploding bon-bon evolved to include a joke, and soon the sweetie was gone, to be replaced
by a novelty paper hat and a small toy, like a small spinning top, or a sewing kit, or one of those “fortune telling fish” that sits on your hand and tells you if you are “passionate” or “dead”. Useful things, like that…
We now have to have crackers on the Christmas table. Children adore them and even though we all know that we are paying through the nose³ for some coloured cardboard, a paper hat, a dreadful joke and toy, we still get them. And there are cracker rules too. Each person must read their joke out, and everyone else must pretend they’ve never heard it before, and laugh. Everyone must put on the silly hats, and anyone who refuses is a Christmas killjoy4 and will not be invited to lunch ever again. And you must always prefer the toy belonging to the person next to you, and you must nag them, sometimes with tears, until they agree to swap. Children instinctively also understand that they must also declare the toy in their cracker to be the “best present ever”, and they must do this loudly and clearly, in front of all the relatives who have spent a fortune carefully choosing them other gifts.
It also turns out that there are people with with more money than sense5 who will spend an exorbitant amount on Christmas crackers. Aspreys of London sell individual crackers with cufflinks, business card holders or porcelain bells inside (why?) for £210 each. Yes, each. Fortnum and Mason sell their ‘Queen’s Crackers’ at £1000 for 6, although they don’t actually tell you whether these are the crackers actually chosen by the Queen herself, and I have to say I hope she’s being sensible with our money and choosing the Racing Santa ones instead. The world’s most expensive crackers, however, don’t have the joke, the hat or the mini tool kit. They have real diamonds inside. Actual big fat diamonds. And at £807,000 (about $1 million) for 6, that really is …crackers.
1 – to be down – to be sad, a little bit depressed. A very British saying, as we don’t like to make a fuss.
2 – to go through the roof – to reach extremes or unexpected highs: ‘London housing prices have gone through the roof”
3 – pay through the nose – pay a lot of money; pay more than you should
4 – killjoy – someone who spoils everyone else’s fun
5 – to have more money than sense – another very popular British phrase, especially as we don’t like to talk about money, and dislike people who show off their wealth too ostentatiously.