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Christmas crackers are a Christmas lunch staple, but there’s a huge difference in terms of gift quality and our testing shows that you can’t always trust what’s on the box.
We looked at the contents of 11 luxury Christmas crackers bought from retailers including Amazon, John Lewis, Lakeland, Ocado, Notonthehighstreet, Marks and Spencer and Selfridges.
Some cracker sets left our panel feeling a little perplexed, while others gave them that festive Christmassy glow.
Find out the Christmas crackers we recommend and those we weren’t too impressed with, including one brand which was missing the gifts inside.
The best luxury Christmas crackers
Unless stated otherwise, all of the crackers we tested came in packs of six.
Editor’s Choice: Nancy & Betty North Pole Friends Luxury Christmas Crackers
What’s inside: Ours contained toys including a spinning top, rubber puzzle, metal cookie cutter, some marbles, Santa’s little helper badge and an animal eraser. Gifts may vary.
Eco credentials: Plastic-free, recyclable crackers (other than the ribbon), a tree planted for every box purchased.
Sample Joke: Did Rudolph go to school? No he was elf taught.
Pros: Look fantastic, strong eco credentials, high quality traditional cracker gifts, appeals to all ages.
Cons: Box art won’t always match the gifts in the pack.
Our verdict: These Nancy & Betty crackers look amazing and they contain high quality traditional cracker toys.
We think these crackers really nail the fun festive spirit and they can be enjoyed by adults as well as kids.
Inside you get traditional Christmas cracker toys, which are made from materials such as wood, metal and rubber, rather than cheap plastic.
Nancy & Betty say they plant a tree for every pack you buy and the whole cracker is recyclable, other than the ribbon, which you can save and use again.
It’s worth noting that the box art might not exactly match the gifts in the crackers. One of our researchers was disappointed not to get a yo-yo in the pack, even though there was one pictured on the back of the box. So you might want to hide the box from children to avoid any similar issues.
Editor’s Choice: Nancy & Betty Fable Forest Luxury Christmas Crackers
What’s inside: Ours contained grown up gifts such as jam, a mini grater, a honey wand, garden string and more.
Eco credentials: Plastic free, recyclable crackers (other than the ribbon), tree planted for every box purchased.
Sample Joke: What did Cinderella say when her photo didn’t arrive in time? One day my prints will come.
Pros: Look fantastic, strong eco credentials, high quality grown up cracker gifts.
Cons: Boring for kids.
Our verdict: Classy grown up crackers that will delight adults but not children.
These Nancy & Betty crackers look and feel fantastic. Inside you get some useful and well made gifts including wooden plant labels, wild flower seeds and some delightful Christmas tape.
If your Christmas is a more grown up affair, our entire panel agreed that these crackers would be a brilliant choice to treat your guests.
Nancy & Betty crackers also have solid eco credentials, with the promise of a tree planted for every pack you buy.
Editor’s Choice: The Little Green Cracker Company Floral Print Christmas Crackers
What’s inside: Ours contained grown up gifts including a candle, shampoo bar, small jar of chutney, wild flower seeds and tea bags.
Eco credentials: Plastic free, made from recycled paper.
Sample Joke: Why was the snowman looking through the carrots? He was picking his nose.
Pros: High quality look and feel, great gifts for grown ups.
Cons: Very expensive, boring for kids.
Our verdict: These crackers are beautifully made and contain lovely adult gifts.
If you’re looking to really make your Christmas table setting look classy and treat your guests too, then these Little Green Cracker Company Crackers are the one for you.
Inside you get decidedly grown up useful gifts which won’t be relegated to the bin as soon as lunch is finished.
In terms of eco credentials, there’s no plastic and the whole cracker is recyclable, other than the very stylish ribbon which can be reused.
While they are fiendishly expensive for Christmas crackers, the panel agreed that they’d be happy to be at a Christmas dinner where these crackers were present, so they’re well deserving of an Editor’s Choice.
How the rest fared
The rest of the Christmas crackers we tested weren’t quite good enough for an Editor’s Choice award. We’ve listed them alphabetically.
Botanical Wreath Handmade Christmas Crackers Box of Six
What’s inside: You can pick what type of gifts you want to have in the crackers when you buy them. Options include origami, table football, truffles, temporary tattoos, seed envelopes, balloon modelling or a mixture of all of the above.
Eco credentials: While the crackers say they’re eco friendly, we got a very plasticky balloon pump in one of ours.
Sample Joke: What do you call a cow with two legs? Lean beef.
Pros: You can choose your own gifts.
Cons: They don’t look as fancy as some, expensive.
Our verdict: Customisable gift options could be tempting, but these crackers from the Handmade Cracker Company didn’t win us over.
If you pick the right gifts for your gathering, you could have a good time with the mostly crafty activities that are on offer.
We went for a mixture of balloon modelling and origami which were fun, but our panel didn’t think that aesthetically these crackers looked the best compared to some of the others we tested.
Considering that the crackers claim to be eco-friendly, it was disappointing that the balloon pump contained in one of the crackers was made of plastic.
All things considered, if your family is very crafty, these could be a good set of Christmas crackers. But they don’t quite do enough for an Editor’s Choice.
Kuckoo Crackers Music Box Christmas Crackers
Cheapest price: £24.95 available at Amazon.
What’s inside: Ours contained a selection of little wind-up music boxes that each play a different Christmas tune.
Eco credentials: There’s no plastic on show and the crackers are recyclable (other than the ribbon). But the music boxes are pretty disposable items that we can’t imagine would stick around long after Christmas.
Sample Joke: Knock knock, who’s there? Boo hoo hoo. Don’t cry it’s only a joke.
Pros: Fun music box gift.
Cons: Not the most attractive crackers, gift is a bit gimmicky.
Our verdict: These crackers lack in terms of style and substance.
Our panel didn’t particularly like the look of these Kuckoo crackers. They were considered to be a little garish and shiny, and weren’t as classy and sophisticated as some of the other crackers we tested.
The toy inside sparked a flurry of fun as our panel tried each music box and tried to guess the tune, but we didn’t think the gifts would hold anyone’s attention much after Christmas lunch.
Ultimately none of the panel chose these crackers as the ones they’d like for their Christmas lunch, so they don’t get our recommendation.
Lakeland 6 Nutcracker Christmas Crackers
Cheapest price: £19.99 at Lakeland.
What’s inside: Ours contained half a dozen traditional toy soldier Christmas decorations which can be hung on a Christmas tree.
Eco credentials: Cracker is recyclable, Christmas decorations could be used year after year.
Sample Joke: What did the man say at his interview at the mirror factory? On reflection I can see myself doing this job.
Pros: Visually appealing, no variety with the gifts.
Cons: Some visible glue on the decorations.
Our verdict: A decent Christmas cracker set for the price and no plastic in sight.
Our panel liked how these Lakeland crackers looked and thought they’d brighten up a Christmas table. They also thought the tree decoration gift inside was pretty good, although every gift is the same, which won’t appeal to some.
But the quality and feel of the crackers isn’t as high with this set as our Editor’s Choice crackers. For example there was visible glue on the Christmas decorations and the crackers weren’t particularly sturdy before opening.
All in all this is a good set of crackers, but they didn’t wow the panel.
Lakeland Racing Pigs in Blanket Crackers
Cheapest price: £19.99 at Lakeland.
What’s inside: Ours contained six pull-back racing pigs, a fabric storage pouch and a cardboard track.
Eco credentials: Quite a lot of plastic in the pull-back pigs. Otherwise the crackers and the ribbons are recyclable.
Sample Joke: What do you get if you cross Santa with a duck? A Christmas quacker.
Pros: The pigs on the crackers are cute.
Cons: Disappointing game, quite a lot of plastic.
Our verdict: A fun idea but the Racing Pigs in Blanket game has little lasting appeal.
Inside these Lakeland Christmas crackers is a racing pig game for six. But our panel wasn’t that impressed with how well the game worked.
When we tried it out, the pigs couldn’t get a good purchase on the cardboard track and most of them simply spun out on the start line.
Our panel thought the game was a bit of a novelty and unlikely to prove popular after Christmas dinner, so it doesn’t impress enough to be an Editor’s Choice.
L’Occitane Festive Beauty Crackers
What’s inside: Ours contained miniature samples of L’Occitane hand cream, shower gel or shower oil.
Eco credentials: Not brilliant. You get a few mini sample bottles in each cracker and they’re plastic.
Sample Joke: No joke.
Pros: Great beauty gift, attractive packaging.
Cons: Only four crackers in the box, won’t suit all tastes, not a proper Christmas cracker with a bang.
Our verdict: It’s more of a table gift than a proper Christmas cracker.
Our panel thought the L’Occitane gifts contained within these beauty crackers were high quality, but ultimately the absence of a joke, hat and the all important bang left some of them disappointed.
The mini sample bottles also contain much more plastic than many of the other cracker sets we tested.
None of the panel decided that they would prefer these crackers on their Christmas table over our Editor’s Choice crackers.
Santa’s Elves Christmas Crackers
Cheapest price: £31 available at Notonthehighstreet.
What’s inside: Ours contained traditional Christmas toys including a yo-yo, puzzle games, a cup and ball and a bouncy ball.
Eco credentials: Not good. While the majority of the cracker is recyclable, each one has a bell on it. The toys inside are also mainly plastic rather than made from more sustainable materials such as wood or metal.
Sample Joke: What do Elves learn at school? The Elfabet.
Pros: The crackers themselves are made very well and look high quality.
Cons: The toys inside are plasticky and disappointing, high plastic content compared to others we tested, small.
Our verdict: Nice crackers on the outside, but disappointing within.
These Notonthehighstreet crackers are high quality and look smart, but they’re much smaller compared to the other crackers in our test.
The toys inside were a mixed bag, the yo-yo was fun but the cup and ball was disappointing.
This isn’t one to buy for your Christmas lunch if you want to avoid having even more plastic toys in your home.
Sara Miller Robin Luxury Christmas Crackers
What’s inside: Ours contained grown up gifts including a metal dice, a bottle opener and a letter stand.
Eco credentials: The cracker is recyclable (other than the ribbon), and the gifts are made from metal rather than plastic.
Sample Joke: What did the Christmas tree say to the decoration? Aren’t you tired of hanging around?
Pros: Look appealing, cracker feels high quality
Cons: Gifts are a bit dull, not suitable for children
Our verdict: These Sara Miller crackers have a lovely design that will look great on a Christmas table, but the gifts inside are disappointing.
Our panel liked the green and gold design of these crackers, but decided that they wouldn’t pick these crackers over our other recommendations because of the relatively underwhelming gifts.
Although there’s no plastic, the metal gifts aren’t particularly useful and they are not suitable for children.
Tom Smith Luxury Kraft Premium Crackers
Cheapest price: £16 at Amazon.
What’s inside: In the crackers we purchased, there was nothing inside. But ordinarily these crackers should have a selection of wooden gifts inside them.
Eco credentials: The cracker is made from recycled paper and contains wooden gifts rather than plastic.
Sample Joke: N/A
Pros: Appealing design, eco-friendly.
Cons: The crackers we purchased were completely empty on arrival.
Our verdict: We were surprised to find that these Tom Smith crackers had nothing inside them when we opened them. No joke, hat, snap or gifts.
They certainly look smart and are made from recycled paper, but we can’t comment on the gifts that come inside.
Presumably the missing contents is due to a mistake at the factory, but it means we can’t recommend them.
We contacted Tom Smith with our findings.
A spokesperson told us: ‘We are extremely saddened and deeply concerned to hear that the crackers you ordered from Amazon were empty.
‘We take these matters very seriously and we will be launching a full investigation as to how this has happened.’
Wrendale Designs Christmas Cracker The Country Set
Cheapest price: £21.99 at Amazon.
What’s inside: Ours contained six kitsch fridge magnets with cute pictures of animals on them.
Eco credentials: The cracker is recyclable, other than the ribbon.
Sample Joke: What’s a penguins favourite relative? Aunt Arctica.
Pros: Big crackers, attractive design, high quality cracker.
Cons: Gifts are a bit dull.
Our verdict: These crackers are large, look great and have a bit of a Beatrix Potter vibe, but the gifts divided opinion.
Our panel liked how these Wrendale Designs cracker set looked and thought they would be a festive and cute addition to any Christmas table.
But the fridge magnet gifts inside underwhelmed some on the panel and were all a bit too similar.
None of the panel would prefer these crackers to our three Editor’s Choice crackers.
Are Christmas crackers worth it?
Other than our Editor’s Choice picks, the expensive crackers we tested were all pretty underwhelming, and didn’t feel that some were great value for money.
Even the toys inside some of the better Christmas crackers weren’t that much better than what you would find in cheap crackers that you can pick up at any supermarket.
Paying more (a lot more in some cases), seems to get you much better looking crackers for your table, and also improve the sustainability credentials of your crackers.
While you might be used to crackers spilling out a lot of cheap plastic destined for landfill, the plastic in the crackers we tested was few and far between and nearly all of the crackers were completely recyclable.
Alternatives to Christmas crackers
If the idea of Christmas crackers seems a little wasteful to you, there are some more sustainable, and cheaper, options out there.
Companies like The Cracker Company and Hobbycraft sell home cracker making sets that you can add your own gifts to, at a fraction of the cost of some of the luxury sets we tested. You can even buy fabric versions that can be used again and again year after year.
If you’re particularly crafty, you could have a stab at some of these kits yourself, using an old toilet roll tube and some Christmas wrapping paper.
How we tested Christmas crackers
We asked a panel of four researchers to open and rate each of the crackers sets we tested.
The crackers were rated on appearance, the quality of the cracker and the quality of the gifts.
Each panel member was then asked which crackers they would like at their own Christmas celebrations.
After considering the above we rated each set of crackers and awarded Editor’s Choice to three of the eleven crackers we tested.