by Judi Moreo
When I was a child, one of my favorite Christmas surprises was to find a box of animal crackers hanging on the tree. Of course, it wasn’t really a surprise. Santa knew how much I loved them, both to play with and to eat. And I knew that Santa knew I loved them. You see, that little box they came in with the string handle made a lovely play purse.
The crackers came in a variety of shapes, eighteen to be exact. There were camels, cougars, giraffes, elephants, gorillas, hippopotamuses, hyenas, lions, rhinoceroses, seals, sheep, kangaroos, monkeys, zebras, tigers, bison, and two bears — one sitting and one walking. Although each box contained 22 crackers, no one was ever guaranteed they would get one of each animal. The reason was that the boxes were filled by machine, and therefore, whatever got scooped up was what made it into the box. Actually, it was fun to have a random selection because then I could compare with my sisters and brother which animals they got in their boxes, and together we would try to create a whole set. This randomness added an element of surprise to a box of animal crackers. Not even Nabisco®, the company that made them, could have foreseen this. Nor would they have imagined that we, like most children, would dismember the animals in a definite order: back legs, forelegs, head, then the body.
The design of animal crackers originated in England in the 1890s, but it was American manufacturer, Nabisco who designed the package and labeled them “Barnum’s Animals” in the decade when P. T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth was very popular. It was Christmas of 1902 when American children first received a tasty box of animal crackers, and they became an instant success. Who knew they were a Christmas cookie? I found out later in life that the real reason for the string on the box wasn’t for me to have a super fun play purse, but instead to encourage parents to hang the boxes of animal crackers on their Christmas trees as gifts.
Nabisco now bakes more than 12,000 animal crackers per minute, so I guess it’s safe to say that I am not the only one who loves animal crackers.