Crackers are one of those things that automatically go in the trolley on every big Christmas shop.
But why are we drawn to this quirky custom? Here are the six emotional stages of cracker-pulling we all go through every year and the traditions behind them.
Stage 1: The frustration when you finally sit down to a delicious plate of turkey with all the trimmings and that's when everyone decides to pull their crackers
If you've ever wondered to yourself why you keep buying these things every year when all they do is delay the most important part of the day - the food - it is, of course, down to tradition. Specifically, it's all thanks to a guy called Tom Smith, a sweet shop owner in London in the 1800s.
In 1847, the legend goes, he invented the first ever Christmas cracker, after seeing French bonbons wrapped in wax paper with a twist in each end. He started selling his sugared almond sweets wrapped in a similar way. As many of them were bought by men to give to women, he also included a love poem inside each one.
Stage 2: The crushing disappointment when your cracker doesn't snap - again!
Tom later decided to add a theatrical bang to his festive sweets. Inspired by the crackle of a log when it's placed on the fire, he created the snap we know today by attaching a small strip of saltpetre to two thin strips of card and placing it in a cardboard tube with the sweets and love notes. When pulled apart, the friction created by the strips would make a spark - hence the bang we hear when we pull our crackers today.
He called them his Bangs of Expectation and started selling them in 1860. They were an instant hit.
Stage 3: The anticlimax when you lose out to granny in the cracker-pull and she takes the spoils
Are you always the one left empty handed? Well, there is a way to ensure you always come out on top. According to weapons experts at QinetiQ (yes, really), if you follow this advice when pulling your crackers, you won't fail:
- Hold your end lower than the other person’s, so the cracker tilts downwards towards you.
- Use a two-handed grip.
- Apply a slow, steady pull, rather than a swift tug.
- Avoid twisting the cracker.
Stage 4: Reading out the terrible joke to a chorus of groans from your friends and family
Ah, those terrible cracker jokes! Who writes them? Well, Julian Reed, from Robin Reed Handmade Crackers, has been coming up with cheesy jokes for your crackers since 1975. And, according to him, they're meant to be awful. "A good cracker joke should be measured in the volume of the groan rather than whether you laugh or not," he explains.
Among the nation's favourite worst jokes are these crackers:
- Q: What happened to the turkey at Christmas? A: It got gobbled!
- Q: What do you get if you eat Christmas decorations? A: Tinsilitis!
Stage 5: Realising you've got the tiny screwdriver set for the 5th year running
After Tom Smith died, his business was handed over to his sons. His youngest son Walter is credited with introducing trinkets and gifts to the crackers and he would search the world for ideas.
But we still have a soft spot for those classic cracker gifts - those tiny screwdrivers do come in handy from time to time.
Stage 6: Putting your paper hat on and realising this is what Christmas is all about
Of course, the reason we always pop that box of crackers in the trolley is because it's all part of the festive fun.
Christmas day just wouldn't be the same if everyone wasn't wearing their silly hats.
So, at some point, you just have to accept the inevitable, put that paper crown on and get into the Christmas spirit!