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 Friday, 20 December, 2002, 09:40 GMT
Going totally crackers at Christmas
Pull a cracker?
Christmas crackers... as familiar as the jokes

If you are planning to go into business making Christmas crackers, there are a few things you need.

For a start you want large quantities of coloured paper, ribbon, paper hats and some really terrible jokes.

Oh, and don't forget the explosives licence.

Explosives? Well, you must have "snaps"...the things that put the crack into crackers.

You don't get bored, except with the jokes

Laura Sparling
Cracker maker

They may be only mildly explosive, but if you keep thousands of them on the premises, you will require a permit from your local council.

It also means that attempting to take Christmas crackers out of the country can be a problem.

If the jokes do not get you arrested, the "snaps" could cause a security alert as you get on the plane.


I discovered all this when I spent a day at Totally Crackers, a Hampshire-based firm that produces hand-crafted crackers for the quality end of the market.

I now know everything there is to know about crackers, including why I never seem to end up with the gift and the hat when I pull a cracker. But more of that later...

Totally Crackers began by accident when Jo Holmes was given a cracker-making kit by her husband.

Open in new window : Make a cracker
A step by step guide to make your own cracker

"As I child I really loved crackers," she told me. "But people just put the hat on and threw the contents away. It seemed such a waste."

She admits that her first crackers looked distinctly home made, but as her skills improved, friends started asking for them.

"I was soon inundated with requests," said Jo.

"My husband, who is a graphic designer, created a website so we could market the crackers and it was manic from day one."


Now, five years later, she turns out ten thousand a year, almost all sold via the internet.

Cost of ingredients
Joke: 2p
Paper hat: 4p
Jigsaw: 15p
Troll: 20p
Telescope: 60p
Wooden puzzle: 1.25

It is not exactly mass production, but these are bespoke crackers, tailored to the needs of the customer. The price per cracker ranges from about 99p to 3.50.

It means you can choose the style of paper and ribbon, and the type of gift inside.

Christmas crackers form only part of the business. There is a growing demand for crackers at weddings and other year-round social events.

A cracker is not just for Christmas

Wedding crackers usually contain chocolates, and each cracker bears the name of the guest, allowing it to be used as part of the place setting.

An Essex woman recently celebrated her 40th birthday with an order for totally pink crackers.

Another customer, a chap with a romantic streak, wanted to hide an engagement ring inside a cracker. I just hope the right woman pulled it...


Did I hear someone mention jokes? Totally Crackers has its own list of favourites, but when inspiration fails, they invite contributions via their website.

Jokes can be tricky. In these politically correct times, a wisecrack about race, religion or sexual orientation could cause deep offence.

Nor should wedding crackers contain mother-in-law jokes, or nuggets of wisdom like "marry in haste, repent at leisure".

A safer bet is jokes about elephants. Here's one I found at Totally Crackers:

"What's grey, yellow, grey, yellow, grey, yellow, grey, yellow, grey, yellow?

"An elephant rolling down a hill with a daisy in its mouth."


An expert can assemble a Christmas cracker in three minutes, from start to finish.

The gifts placed inside the cracker include quiz books and puzzles, plus old favourites like miniature telescopes and fortune-telling fish.

After two months of intensive cracker making in the run up to Christmas, Laura Sparling says she still enjoys the work.

People just put the hat on and threw the contents seemed such a waste

Jo Holmes
Cracker maker

"Each order is different, so you don't get bored," she said. "Except with the jokes."

She says she now casts a more critical eye over the mass-produced crackers on sale in the High Street.

So will the staff of Totally Crackers be using their own products over the festive season?

"I'm having a cracker-free Christmas," laughed Jo Holmes.

"I have enough of them at work!"


That just leaves the mystery about why, when you pull a cracker with the person sitting next to you, they always seem to end up with the hat and gift.

History of the cracker
First appeared: 1847
Place: London
Inventor: Tom Smith
Job: Confectioner
Inspiration: French bonbons, sugared almonds wrapped in a twist of paper

The answer, it seems, has nothing to do with brute strength.

The shocking truth is that there are small cuts in the paper in the scrunched up bit of the cracker, to make it come apart more easily.

But the cuts are only made at one end of the cracker... so it is all a matter of luck.

Hold the wrong end, and your partner will get the contents.

If you think it is all down to technique, you probably still believe in Father Christmas.

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