Charles Dickens did so much to capture and shape the Victorian Christmas spirit and continues to this very day to influence the modern holiday celebration through his Christmas-themed novels and, in particularly, the best-known and most-loved one of all - "The Christmas Carol".
In 1898, Dickens' wrote the following review of the then most popular trend of Christmas crackers. It is rather long and flowery so I am paraphrasing for you here but, if interested, please do read the full account following.
You frequently hear me moaning about how awful (in my opinion) the commercial crackers have been for years now - pretty on the outside but empty of anything except poor jokes, plain hats and plastic or metal gizmos. Dickens, in his time which was the heyday of crackers, had the opposite to say noting how improved crackers had become - no longer merely candy and mottoes wrapped in twists of paper with uncertain snaps (sometimes these used to set tablecloths on fire!): "But the cracker of other days was but a small affair after all, wrapped up in what seemed like scraps of coloured wall-paper. It often missed fire, and there was nothing within but a bonbon - "pas trop bon " - and a scrap of doggrel...". It seems we have come full circle?!
Ever the ladies' man, Dickens described the cracker work force: " ... a throng of girls, nicely dressed, and by no means wanting in personal attractions, who are all busily making crackers."
The working conditions sound a bit more idealized than the GillianCrackers Workshop: " It is a charming employment for young women, this making of crackers - everything is clean, and dainty, and pretty about them; there are no noxious fumes or extremes of temperature [my elf staff would disagree with that!]to contend with; and it is a labour light and pleasant, to which the nimble fingers alone are wedded, and which leaves the mind free and unruffled" Well, I guess maybe...
Then Dickens quotes cracker-maker Tom Smith: "...there is an immensity of detail about this business". Yes, there are cares upon cares in catering for the amusement of a volatile public - to keep up the supply of novelties and devise always something fresh and taking to pass within the narrow round of a Christmas cracker". Yes, well now, that sounds a bit more like it. Both are true - 'a labour light' and 'the immensity of detail with cares upon cares'!
My favourite phrase Dickens offered was in his description of the Tom Smith workplace as "this factory of fairy trinkets". How lovely!
And the most inspiring was the description of the cracker contents: "...all the distinguished head-gear of the British army... the lancer's complicated cap, the helmet and nodding plume of the gold dragoon. For young gamesters there are cards and dice, tops that spin and sing, and little toys of every description. It would be easier, indeed, to set forth what is not, than what is to be found in these wonderful [toy] storerooms". And: "... a doctor's hood and gown... a jester's cap and bells; or a terrier pup, in china; or a balloon, or Professor Baldwin's latest parachute..." Can you imagine the fun and anticipation of opening crackers such as these?!
So intrinsic were crackers to the Victorian Christmas celebration that advertising for them was found everywhere. Dickens described this: " announced on every hoarding, on the walls of railways stations, in the corridors of hotels and public buildings. Wherever you go you can hardly fail to meet with a reminder of the coming glories of [Christmas] crackers". Oh, don't I wish this were still true though Google, Bing & Yahoo are surely doing their bit in this regard!
I have for years now been offering crackers as 'ice-breakers' at family reunions and in places where people who don't know one another well are meeting for long periods of time - intense periods of conferencing, for instance. Dickens describes this: "...where the box of crackers infuses a new spirit into the assemblage." Thank you Mr. Dickens - May I borrow that line?
In closing he says, "Such pleasure as the cracker may bring us, is altogether pure and unalloyed, and it may be that you will preserve some little toy or trinket as a souvenir of some of the happiest moments of your life."
Reference: "All The Year Round"
Conducted by Charles Dickens
December 15, 1898
Ref: "All the Year Round" found on Google Books"
This publication edited by Charles Dickens until his death in 1870
was then carried on by his son, Charles Dickens, Jr, until 1988 or possibly even until 1895. It is unclear, but this cracker article above is thought to be written by Dickens, Sr. and published posthumously.
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♥♥from your Chief Cracker Elf,Gillian