The humble cracker is a British Festive tradition. It’s a cardboard tube with a small explosive inside that contains gifts for those around the table during Christmas dinner. Two people grab an end each and pull until the cracker breaks. Like a wishbone, the person who retains the lion’s share wins.
Crackers are as much a part of Christmas Day as overeating, drowsiness and playing with presents. Around in one form or another since the 1840s, the standard cracker contains a hat, a gift and a joke.
Hats and gifts have remained relatively consistent over the years, there’s only so much you can fit inside a small, cardboard cylinder. Jokes, however, have evolved and mutated almost beyond recognition since the cracker’s creation. What we find hilarious on Christmas Day in 2014 would be met by blank stares in 1914.
We’ve explored the British Newspaper Archive to look back at what made us chortle at different points in the past, and it’s a fascinating glimpse into the way humour has changed.