I’ve got one for you, Dee, and it’s even Victorian!
In Canda, the U.K., and I think the other Commonwealth countries, we still carry on the tradition of Christmas Crackers. I spent Christmas in Florida once, and while I didn’t particularly miss the snow and cold, doing without the traditional stupid cracker nonsense totally depressed me.
So, I guess I’d better explain. Christmas Crackers are beautifully wrapped tube-like packages that sit on your dinner plate before the meal. Once everyone is seated, you cross your arms and hold your cracker out to the person on your left, while taking the end of the cracker of the person on your right. Once everyone is in position, you pull like mad. The crackers open with a big bang, and inside is a VERY cheap little toy of some kind (usually broken by the time the meal is over), a paper hat (many families INSIST you wear the hat if you want to eat) and a dumb joke or fortune-cookie-like saying. It has to be one of the stupidest traditions in the tradition of traditions, but that’s what makes it fun!
On to the history. Apparently sometime in the 1850s, the cracker began simply as the idea to wrap candy in a paper twist. Then, a fortune was added to the candy, and then a trinket. Anyway, you can read all about it on this website, http://www.christmasarchives.com/crackers.html
According to this site, there used to be incredible crackers, much fancier than the ones we get every year. My favourite story is this one: “One of the nicest stories told by the staff is that of the gentleman who send a diamond ring and a ten-shilling note, with a letter requesting that a special cracker be made with the ring inside, as a proposal to his ladylove. Sadly, the gentleman did not remember to include his address! ” The ring, I am assured, remains in the cracker company’s archives.