Lisa's week

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Lisa's week: The joy of a Christmas cracker!

Lisa hat Christmas cracker

Christmas crackers are a firm favourite in my family back home and I’ve now imported this important British tradition to my German family too. So you can guarantee that all of us will be sitting round the dining table, eating our traditional English Christmas dinner, wearing a rather ill-fitting paper hat!

But what is a Christmas cracker, I hear you say. It looks a little like an oversized wrapped sweet in fancy coloured paper. Two people pull the cracker between them, each holding one end. There’s a cardboard tube in the middle and when the cracker is pulled, there’s a loud crack as a strip of chemically impregnated paper creates a mini pop-like noise. The cracker splits unevenly so that one or other of the people will be left holding just some pretty paper and the other will have the part with the cardboard tube. This is the PRIZE for it holds a rather “delightful” paper hat, a very family-friendly joke and a small gift. The hat is promptly placed on your head, the joke is told out loud to the whole table who groan at the painfully “funny” punch line and then we are all astounded at the uselessness of the present. Well, at least those are the crackers that we like to have in our house!

You can, of course, get luxury editions with prettier hats, better jokes and real gifts but round here, we prefer the kitschier version of this Christmas staple. The more child-like the joke, the bigger the groan. The more useless the gift, the more we wonder at exactly what it is. And the more flimsy the hat, the funnier it will look on the photos.

The humble cracker was first created in 1847 by Tom Smith who discovered the “bon bon” sweet on an idea collecting trip to Paris in 1840. Starting with the idea of a sugared almond wrapped in tissue paper, Tom developed the idea by including short love motto in the wrapping and then soon after including something to create a “pop” when the wrapping was pulled open to help build excitement around his invention. This later developed into the snap that can be found inside a cracker today and the overall size of the cracker increased so that he could include a gift rather than the almond.

The name “cracker” comes from the original name of Cosaques who were known to ride around, firing into the air. Tom Smith’s sons continued to develop this wonderful invention and in the early 1900s, introduced the paper hat, with jokes replacing the love notes in the early 1930s. Since that time, it would appear that not much has changed with the format of the cracker and it is as popular today as when I was a child, many years ago.

Shall I share a typical joke with you? Oh, ok then, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!

  • What says Oh Oh Oh?

Santa walking backwards!

  • What does Santa suffer from if he gets stuck in a chimney?



What is Lisa's week?

"We’ve (hopefully) been entertaining you so far with the meaning and background of a weekly English idiom and now we’ve decided to expand that a little to give me the chance to share some details that come my way in my daily life as a Business English teacher. I hope to find weekly tidbits of information and experience to tell you about such as British traditions that I (or we) celebrate, or typical mistakes made when speaking English, or even some of the funny things I come across in my daily life. We hope that you’ll enjoy the insight into the life of a Brit in Germany!"


Episode 1: The Queen's 90th birthday

Episode 2: What did you do last Sunday?

Episode 3: What's the best way to answer?

Episode 4: The sound of London

Episode 5: Not just a last resort

Episode 6: Quick tip of the week: advice vs. advise

Episode 7: Title talk

Episode 8: The Union Jack

Episode 9: Why Thursday?

Episode 10: Quick tip of the week - Are you watching or just looking?

Episode 11: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Episode 12: Don't forget to take you handy to the public viewing!

Episode 13: Up in the Highlands

Episode 14: Quick tip of the week - "Popular" false friends

Episode 15: Pie in the sky 

Episode 16: Through the tunnel

Episode 17: Keep left!

Episode 18: Quick tip of the week - Rise vs. raise vs. arise

Episode 19: How do you say that?

Episode 20: Back to School!

Episode 21: Sweet cravings

Episode 22: Can you change a fiver?

Episode 23: Grabbing some "me time"

Episode 24: Typical Mistakes (part 1)

Episode 25: Fancy a cuppa?

Episode 26: Quip tip of the week - Fell vs. fall etc.

Episode 27: Things that go bump in the night!

Episode 28: Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpower, treason and plot

Episode 29: What's that badge you're wearing?

Episode 30: Bless you!

Episode 31: What are you thankful for?

Episode 32: Where's the larget Christmas Market outside Germany or Austria?

Episode 33: What's behind the door?