Do me a little favor, will ya?
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle might not follow every tradition when it comes to their upcoming wedding. For example, they’ll marry in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Palace instead of Westminster Abbey, and they’ll hold their ceremony on a Saturday instead of a weekday. But there’s one British tradition we’d love to see them carry on: party crackers as part of the celebration.
Once considered a Christmas-only addition to festive tables around the U.K., custom-made versions of these charming, trinket-filled paper packages have become a hot party trend stateside and year-round. And they may well pop up at the latest royal wedding.
Celebration crackers became part of royal-wedding history when Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer incorporated them into their wedding breakfast. According to Susan Dench, the British-born owner of It’s My Party!, the Maine-based maker of bespoke party crackers, Charles and Diana’s crackers were decidedly more stylish than whimsical. Each was presented to their guests in a silk-lined box and contained cufflinks for the gents and a silver brooch for the ladies. Meghan was spotted pulling open a party cracker with Prince Charles during her first royal family Christmas lunch, so perhaps we’ll see a similar scene with Prince Harry at her wedding breakfast.
Join us as Dench reveals everything from the history of celebration crackers to her suggestions for popping them into your own parties.
First things first, since you were born in England, we have to ask: Are you excited about the upcoming royal wedding?
Yes! I happened to be in England visiting during Charles and Diana’s wedding, and we had a fantastic time celebrating with my family’s entire village! We have a special connection to royal weddings, so it’s especially fun for us. During the run-up to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding, our London-based daughter was working for milliner Philip Treacy, who created hats for more than 30 of their guests, including Princess Beatrice’s widely discussed bow hat. For this royal wedding, we’ll be having a party. I’ve been planning it for months. The festivities will start at 5:00 a.m. to watch it live, and we’ll be indulging in all sorts of British goodies—with crackers, of course.
Tell us about the custom crackers you’ve made for your wedding-watching party.
We created a special pattern for the day called Royal Wedding—it features peonies, which are one of the bride’s purported favorites; roses; and of course myrtle, a flower that symbolizes fidelity and love, which every royal bride has incorporated into her bouquet since Queen Victoria. We also created a new print called Tiki Time, because we hear that Prince Harry and Meghan’s second reception (for the inner circle) will feature a tiki bar, to honor his favorite London club, Mahiki. Inside the crackers will be a gold crown, a package of colorful tissues (who doesn’t cry at weddings!), and little cards featuring fun facts about the Royal Family.
If Harry and Meghan were to incorporate celebration crackers into their wedding, what party favor do you think would be inside?
This is such a fun, decidedly unstuffy couple—crackers at their wedding breakfast would be a fantastic addition to the festivities. I don’t think they’d have a traditional favor inside, however. Instead, they’d probably have a sweet note telling guests that a donation had been made in their honor to one of the couple’s favorite charities. It’s so wonderful to see a couple so obviously and madly in love that earnestly wants to do good in the world.
Can you tell us a bit about the history of celebration crackers?
A beloved British tradition, crackers date back to 1845 when, after a trip to Paris, a confectioner got the idea to wrap sweets as love tokens. They weren’t very popular initially, though. It wasn’t until he added a “snap”—which provided a satisfying “bang!” when the crackers are pulled—that they became a celebration staple. Today, when you pull a cracker, a paper crown, a toy or trinket, and a silly joke fall out. The crowns symbolize the crowns worn by the Wise Men and wearing them during Christmas dinner is a hallmark of a quintessentially British holiday celebration. Even with the Crown Jewels at her disposal, the Queen always gets in on the fun. Brits go through more than 150 million crackers during the Christmas holidays alone.
How did you first become interested in celebration crackers?
Being British by birth (I lived there until I was eight, so I have dual citizenship), crackers were always part of celebrating life’s special moments. I’ve also always loved how they can quickly get the fun going at a dinner party. We’ve always invited strangers or “orphan” friends over for Christmas dinner when they can’t get home for the holidays, and crackers have always been a great icebreaker.
What inspired you to introduce them to a wider audience through your business?
I was inspired to start the business as a way of getting the conversation flowing among strangers who have been brought together by an event. Crackers are a great way to get party guests mixing and mingling, and happy memories are the best gift hosts can give their guests.
Your celebration crackers are unique in that they include a conversation starter. Why was it important to you to do that?
After becoming a corporate refugee, I conducted communications workshops and even wrote a book on the subject. I’ve observed firsthand how real, face-to-face conversation is becoming a lost art. Our Conversation Pieces crackers include a conversation starter as a way of giving friendly chatter a jump start. They are a great way of making everyone feel more comfortable at a dinner party, and the more comfortable your guests feel, the better the overall experience will be for them.
Crackers are becoming very popular at parties all year round. How do you suggest people incorporate celebration crackers into their social gatherings?
Today, crackers are being used at all kinds of parties. They’re a beautiful addition to a tablescape or event décor, almost like a piece of jewelry or art, and can help set a party’s tone, particularly if they’re custom-made. Although traditionally they’re part of the table setting, crackers can also be used to deliver invitations or save-the-dates; as an icebreaker or party game; for an event raffle; to direct guests to their seats at a party; and as party favors. They can also be used as a business-branding tool, which is something Aerin Lauder did at a party she hosted to launch some fantastic new products. I’ve also seen them used very successfully at fundraisers, since people are much more likely to open their purses at a fundraiser if they are engaged and having a great time.
You recently incorporated celebration crackers into your parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. Tell us about that.
That party was one of the most meaningful celebrations we’ve had, and everyone is still talking about it! Inside each cracker was a thoughtful message that was specific to their relationship—for example, inside jokes about their interests in gardening, fun facts about their life together, and questions that took them on a walk down memory lane. It was a wonderful way of reliving their beautiful love story.
Your crackers are to celebration crackers what couture is to ready-to-wear in that everything about them, from the pretty papers you use to what you put inside, is completely bespoke. How do you select the gorgeous paper patterns that you use?
I’m a pattern addict. I’m constantly inspired by what I see. We offer hundreds of options, but what they all have in common is that they are fresh, bold takes on classic patterns. We carry patterns from chinoiserie to madras patch plaid. We’ve even made crackers from Thibaut’s Tea House wallpaper. And we’ve been getting many requests for fabric, so that’s not too far behind.
And here are a few more stories we think you’ll enjoy:
The Sally Award: Kate Middleton
Cathy Graham: RSVP
Inspiring party-theme ideas
The Salonniere’s Party-Planning Checklist
Welcome Photo and Quote Mashup
Welcome Photo: Princess Grace of Monaco and Princess Margaret, circa 1970
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, 1948
Photos: Susan Dench, Pinterest