Christmas way back when - and now

The Christmas dining table would not be complete without the Christmas cracker, originating in the 1

The Christmas dining table would not be complete without the Christmas cracker, originating in the 19th century and with strong connections to Norfolk. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

I was reminded the other day by somebody who was not of a dissimilar age to myself when we were talking about Christmas and Christmas presents how, in the latter part of the last century, it was quite common to hang up a pillow case, not a big one, in which to have t he delivery from Father Christmas.

On the Christmas morning how delighted you were to receive perhaps a small bag of walnuts, a compulsory orange, maybe a small tin of Bluebird toffees (I now wish I'd kept the tin) and, possibly, a book – nothing very special and on a very rare occasion when you were quite young maybe a small tin plate toy in it's original cardboard box which was a product of Triang or maybe even Chad Valley.

This clockwork toy and items like it would perhaps go with the farmyard animals that you got the previous year made of a lead substance and, perhaps, also a few toy soldiers and a fort that Uncle had made for you to play with.

Very simplistic, but we were very happy and contented with those few things. I imagine that some people were perhaps a bit more fortunate and maybe they got a better, more ornate tin plate toy than I did. Certainly some of those toys produced in Germany have gone on to make the headlines throughout the world when they come up for sale. German companies were masters at the manufacture and printing on tin and the end result has stood the test of time but now they are very much in demand by, what shall I say - upper class collectors who are still in the market for quality toys.

I know that every year people complain more and more about the commercialisation of Christmas and in the maze and the haze that confronts every family around Christmas with presents, drinks and food that has to be assembled for the festive period. Much is lost of the true meaning and value of Christmas. And yet, there have been things in the past that have been harmless introductions to this particular festival that have lasted and remain as popular as ever – one of which must be the Christmas Cracker.

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For this invention we have to thank a certain Tom Smith who, at one time, had very active connections with East Anglia.

It was the crackle of a log as he threw it on his fire that gave him the flash of inspiration in 1847 which led to the crackers we know today.

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Tom perfected his chemical explosion to create a 'pop' caused by friction when the wrapping was broken. This eventually became the snap and the cracker was born.

After Tom's death, his three sons set about developing the cracker designs, contents and mottoes. Walter Smith, the youngest son, introduced a topical note to the mottoes. Special writers were commissioned to compose snappy and relevant maxims.

The original early Victorian mottoes were mainly love verses …. Eventually, these were replaced by more complicated puzzles and cartoons and finally by the corny jokes and riddles which characterise our crackers today.

When everybody is gathered round the table and we are all ready to circulate and pull the Christmas Crackers, let's this year give a special thought to the meaning of Christmas and why are we sitting round in a festive mood anyhow? Maybe the bang of the cracker will jolt us into realising just what happened 2000 years ago and give thanks, not just for the crackers but the meaning of Christmas.

A very happy Christmas and a healthy 2019 to everyone.

Mike Hicks has run Stalham Antique Gallery at 29 High Street, Stalham (NR12 9AH) for more than 30 years. His business is open Mondays to Fridays from 9am-1pm and 2-4.30pm, and on Saturdays from 9am-1pm. You can contact Mike on 01692 580636 or or

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