British Expat Newsletter:
12 November 2008

Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.

In this issue

  • This week: Christmas crackers
  • Virtual Snacks
  • Bizarre Searches
  • Quotation and joke

This week

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Depending where you are, only 43 shopping days until Christmas – 37 if the shops close on Sundays (or indeed Saturdays or Fridays) where you are.

It always used to intrigue us that one of the hardest Christmas-related things to buy while overseas was Christmas crackers. While living on the South Asian sub-continent we were usually in the fortunate position of being able to buy things from a commissariat, so we were able to get hold of them that way. But we weren’t able to put in for a private order for them, or indeed to bring them with us on our first arrival. All those explosives in the snaps, you see. Well, I suppose if you got enough of them together you might just have enough to blow the lid off a soft-boiled egg, but still…

Christmas crackers are a very British thing, so it’s a bit of a surprise to find that the inspiration for the idea came from France. More specifically, from Paris, where London confectioner Tom Smith went on holiday with his family in 1840. He noticed that bonbons – sugared almonds – were being sold in little paper twists, which struck him as being a vast improvement on the unhygienic British practice of selling sweets in open trays where they’d be manhandled by the vendor, coughed on by the buyer, crawled on by countless flies… so when he went home he took with him both the bonbon recipe and the concept of wrapping sweets.

The bonbons sold well over Christmas that year. That might have been that, but for the slump in sales in January. Casting around for an idea to boost sales again, Smith hit on the idea of double-wrapping them and enclosing a love motto (he’d noticed that bonbons were particularly popular with young ladies) between the outer and inner wrapper. His idea worked, and sales went up again – but unfortunately his idea was easily replicable and was seized on almost immediately by his competitors. The next step was to enclose a small trinket with the sweets, but again his rivals cottoned on quickly.

It wasn’t until 1847 that Tom Smith came up with the inspiration that gave him a unique design that he would be able to patent and thus prevent his competitors from stealing his idea. Sitting by the fire one day, he heard the crackle of a log and realised that a “bang” would give his design extra excitement. A bit of research later, and he had the perfect compound for the job: silver fulminate, discovered in 1800, a substance that readily explodes even in very small amounts – and a little of that painted onto the ends of two strips of paper (held firmly together by a short sleeve to make the snap, as it’s called) was all that was needed. He redesigned the paper twist so that it could be opened by pulling it apart (thus making the strips of silver fulminate in the snap rub against each other and explode to make the “bang”) – and, to all intents and purposes, the modern cracker was born.

In subsequent years, the sweets were dropped from the “Cosaque” (as the original crackers were known, in reference to the sound of Cossacks’ whips); paper hats were added; and the love mottoes were replaced with puzzles, conundrums and, eventually, the traditionally corny jokes. Luxury crackers were next on the scene, as the more well-to-do wanted gifts that were a bit special rather than the cheap little toys in the mass market versions. In 1927 one man even sent the Tom Smith company a diamond engagement ring and ten shillings (50p in decimal money, but obviously worth a lot more than that in today’s prices) to make a special cracker enclosing the ring. The cracker was duly made, but no-one ever came to collect the ring, and the man had forgotten to enclose his own address and never wrote to the company again! The company, now owned by Welsh company Brite Sparks, and the largest maker of crackers in the world, still has the cracker.

If you’re finding it hard to get hold of crackers where you are, you could always try making your own! One of our friends in India always used to ask us to save up toilet-roll holders for a few months before Christmas so that she could do just that. She made a good job of them, too. There are plenty of guides to making crackers around, on the Internet and in books.

Don’t blow yourself up making the snap, though!

Do you have anything to say about this topic? Or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell?

Virtual Snacks

Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare:

We tried tracking down a Blue Peter guide to making Christmas crackers, but amazingly there didn’t seem to be one. But if you really do fancy the idea of making your own, The Field magazine had a useful article round about this time last year explaining how.

Apparently even UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan fell foul of the concerns over Christmas crackers in air freight last year, according to the BBC.

Bizarre Searches

Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:

  • brickies distracted
  • swearing in maltese
  • headless chicken irish rugby
  • find the word hello in british
  • small topic of india
  • istanbul octopus garlic
  • john constable- the leaping horse interpretation
  • can i receive incapacity while living in spain
  • i saw your email on the internet i want you to assist me by getting a nice property for purshase within your location as me and my family want to
  • inglish names for a boys

Till next time…
Happy surfing!

Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat Magazine


“Roses are reddish
Violets are bluish
If it weren’t for Christmas
We’d all be Jewish.”

– Benny Hill, comedian (1924-92)


Two crocodiles were sitting on the Victoria Embankment by the side of the Thames. The smaller one turned to the bigger one and said, “I can’t understand how you can be so much bigger than me. We’re the same age, we were the same size as kids. I just don’t get it.”

“Well,” said the big croc, “what have you been eating?”

“Politicians, same as you,” replied the small croc.

“Hmm. Well, where do you catch them?”

“Down in the car park under the House of Commons.”

“Same here. Hmm. How do you catch them?”

“Well, I crawl up under one of their Jaguars and wait for one to unlock the car door. Then I jump out, grab them by the leg, shake the $h1t out of them and eat ’em!”

“Ah!” says the big crocodile, “I think I see your problem. You’re not getting any real nourishment. See, by the time you finish shaking the $h1t out of a politician, there’s nothing left but an @r$ehole and a briefcase.”

This entry was posted in 2008 and tagged by Kay McMahon. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kay McMahon

Kay has been an expat for nearly 30 years. She set up the British Expat website back in early 2000, whilst living in London and missing the expat life. These days she spends much of her time lugging computers and cameras around the world. (Dave gets to deal with all the really heavy stuff.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *