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Article: Christmas cracker or Christmas bonbon?

Christmas cracker or Christmas bonbon?

Have you ever wondered why some people say “Christmas crackers” while others say “bonbons”? Here at Bonbon Fusion, we use both but, as the name of our small business suggests, “bonbons” is the word our family most commonly uses to refer to these wonderful festive items!

In this blog, we’ll explore the origins and history of Christmas crackers, uncovering the reasons behind their alternate name. Read on as we unwrap the mystery and delve into why these delightful additions to our holiday festivities are also known as bonbons.

Is it christmas cracker or bonbon?

The Origins of Christmas Crackers

To understand why Christmas crackers are also called bonbons, we need to journey back to the 19th century. The story begins with a British confectioner named Tom Smith who was so inspired by ‘bon bon’ sweets on a trip to Paris in 1846 that he started selling similar delicacies on his return to England. 

As an embellishment to the French variety, which consisted of sugared almonds wrapped in pretty tissue paper, Tom Smith added a riddle or love motto to each bon bon. Alas, they didn’t catch on at first and so it was back to the drawing board for the creative confectioner! 

The Original Christmas Cracker

The Original Christmas Cracker

Credit: Christmas Elves

Nevertheless, we see here how the French word ‘bon bon’ – commonly spelt ‘bonbon’ – which made its entrée into English in 1796, was starting to get a foothold in the language. And while ‘bonbon’ means ‘candy’ or ‘lolly’ in French (see more below!), it took on a whole new meaning in English as a new and soon-to-be highly popular festive item!

Persistent as he was, Tom Smith continued to modify his bonbon creation, replacing the sugared almonds with purpose-designed trinkets, novelty toys and jewellery. Then, sitting by the fire one evening, he was taken by the crackling sound of logs in the fireplace and decided that this would be a great way to capture a sense of joy and surprise in a bonbon.

Smith proceeded to buy the chemical recipe for the Snap! from a London fireworks company called Brock’s Fireworks Manufactory. And so it was that, in 1861, Smith launched the first Christmas crackers or ‘Bangs of Expectation’, as they were first called.

Pulling both ends of the cracker produced a cracking sound, creating a moment of anticipation and delight. They were an immediate hit in London and quickly gained popularity, becoming an integral part of Christmas celebrations in Britain and beyond.

Not surprisingly, the term ‘Bangs of Expectation’ didn’t take off and it seems that the name ‘cracker’ emerged from the people, presumably due to the cracking sound they made when they were snapped (so some nice onomatopoeia!). They were also nicknamed ‘cosaques’ after the Cossack soldiers who were reputed to fire their guns in the air as they rode along on their horses. 

Festive Cosaques

Festive Cosaques

Credit: History Extra

So, you can see how, from the very outset in the 1860s, this ubiquitous festive item was known by many different names: bonbons, bangs of expectation, crackers and cosaques!

The Evolution of Christmas Crackers

Over time, Christmas crackers underwent various transformations. Safety concerns led to the replacement of the explosive device with a popping mechanism, ensuring that the enjoyment of crackers was risk-free for all ages. The contents inside also evolved, expanding beyond the initial sweets to include small gifts, jokes, and paper hats, creating a delightful ensemble of surprises. 

This was particularly the case when Tom Smith’s three sons took over the business in 1880 and made their own mark on the bonbon design. Word has it that son Walter travelled the world looking for new ideas and was inspired to include paper hats after seeing Epiphany cakes in Europe, which were often decorated with a paper crown on top.

Having Fun with Party Hats

Having Fun with Party Hats

Credit: Historic UK

During the late 19th century, the tradition of pulling Christmas crackers spread across the globe. As different cultures embraced the custom, various names emerged to describe them. While the term "Christmas crackers" became prevalent over time in many English-speaking countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, in French-speaking regions, including France itself, they are commonly known as bonbons.

In Australia, we’ve been enjoying the fun since about 1867 when the confectioners George Smith and Sons of Sydney introduced bonbons to the country. Originally, the idea was to give them away to children as gifts – a notion that didn’t last long …!

The Connection between Christmas Crackers and Bonbons

So, we can see that the association between Christmas crackers and bonbons lies in the traditional meaning of the word "bonbon." As alluded to above, "bonbon" translates to "good-good" or "sweet" in French. Originally, bonbons referred specifically to small, round sweets or candies. However, over time, the term expanded to encompass any small, indulgent treat or gift.

In French-speaking regions where the custom of Christmas crackers was embraced, the term "bonbons" became intertwined with the festive tradition. This connection likely arose due to the shared element of surprise and delight that both bonbons and Christmas crackers bring to celebrations. Consequently, people in these areas began calling Christmas crackers "bonbons" as a way to describe the exciting treats found inside.

The increasing popularity of multiculturalism and global travel has further blurred the lines between traditions. Exposure to different customs and terminology has led to a broader acceptance of alternative names for Christmas crackers. Consequently, the term "bonbons" has found its way into the vocabulary of people from various backgrounds, enriching the tapestry of holiday celebrations with diverse and vibrant terminology. The dual usage of these terms showcases the interplay of cultural exchange and the evolution of traditions over time. 

Snapping a Christmas Cracker

Snapping a Christmas Cracker

Credit: I Spot Santa

In Australia, the term “Christmas crackers” has become increasingly popular but, for many of us, we grew up knowing them as “bonbons” – and what happy memories they continue to bring! 

And, of course, here at Bonbon Fusion, we don’t limit ourselves to Christmas but love bonbons for all seasons and reasons. Any festive occasion is an opportunity to open a pack of bonbons and join in all the fun! 

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