Not with a bang but a whimper: Christmas Crackers fall silent this year

Christmas crackers fall silent Photo: Shutterstock

They are a tradition at British dining tables over the festive period but the explosive bang of the Christmas cracker is set to disappear this year to make them more ‘responsible’. Instead, party-goers are expected to make their own noise when pulling the traditional cracker at the start of Christmas dinner.

Christmas crackers are a traditional Christmas favorite in the UK. They were first made in about 1850 by a London sweet maker called Tom Smith. He had seen the French ‘bon bon’ sweets (almonds wrapped in pretty paper) on a visit to Paris in 1840. He came back to London and tried selling sweets like that in England and also included a small motto or riddle in with the sweet but they didn’t sell very well. 10 years later though Tom Smith launched his new range of what he called ‘Bangs of Expectation’.

The inspiration to add the explosive ‘crack’ was supposedly sparked by the crackling sound of a log fire. Smith patented his first cracker device in 1847; it used two narrow strips of paper layered together, with silver fulminate painted on one side and an abrasive surface on the other: when pulled, friction created a small explosion. The company introduced a range of cracker designs, which were marketed as a novelty for use at a wide range of celebrations. Tom’s son, Walter, added the elaborate hats, made of fancy paper, and sourced novelties and gifts to be secreted inside (source: Victoria & Albert Museum).

A celebration of responsibility

Now though, concerns over sustainability as well as health and safety could put a stop to this cherished Christmas tradition, or at least silence it. Alliance National, one of the UK’s largest catering suppliers, has decided to change the sound of Christmas. The company has announced that it will only offer environmentally friendly, “crackless” crackers, aiming to turn the holiday into a “celebration of responsibility”.

The company has axed Christmas crackers with the silver fulminate strips and now says its crackers will have “the audible crack of cardboard” instead. The new crackers come with a note that urges users to “make some noise” before informing them that “we have removed the snap from this cracker to ensure it is fully recyclable”.

The note inside says that the move is “part of our journey to make every Christmas a celebration of responsibility” and, on its e-commerce website Alliance Online,

they respond to the question: What is the difference between normal Christmas Crackers and the Eco-Friendly Crackers? “This is a question that is asked often as it is important for the consumer to understand why the Crackers they are cracking aren’t making the traditional Christmas cracker snap sound they are used to. The reason for this is simple, the silver fulminate has been taken out making it an eco-friendly choice that consumers have been pining for”.

Crackers are poisonous

Silver fulminate is very poisonous, about the same as cyanides. It is extremely explosive and can even self-detonate. Crackers contain extremely small amounts of silver fulminate, and when they are pulled apart, the chemical makes a tiny explosion that creates an audible bang. One historical use of silver fulminate was in detonators once used by the Italian Navy.

Will you be shouting “Bang!” this year?

But is this the end of the traditional cracker? Christopher Snowdon, an author and head of lifestyle and economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, was served the silent crackers at a recent lunch hosted by the Lords and Commons Cigar Club in the House of Lords. He described them as “rubbish”, adding, “you pull a cracker and they don’t crack and you just think it’s faulty” (Daily Mail).

Some retailers such as John Lewis have taken a middle way and advised customers to remove the ‘crack’, the silver fulminate strip, before recycling the rest. And then there is also the problem of where to get your crackers: many airlines do not allow crackers in carry-on baggage; they must be in your suitcase in the hold. Some airlines even prohibit Christmas crackers altogether, for those travelling to the United States for instance, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does not allow Christmas crackers at all and categorises them as flammable (the same as fireworks).

Will you still have traditional crackers this Christmas? Is this taking sustainability and risk just a step too far?

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Written by

Kevin Fraser Park

Kevin was born in Scotland and worked in marketing, running his own businesses in UK, Italy and, for the last 8 years, here in Spain. He moved to the Costa del Sol in 2016 working initially in real estate. He has a passion for literature and particularly the English language which is how he got into writing.


    • Renato Besomi

      08 December 2023 • 13:21

      Just cancel Xmas. The People (Government) get more and more STUPID!!!!!!!

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