Countdown to the countdown. We're crackers at Christmas

There’s not long left! You have until the end of Friday US Eastern time to vote for your top 10 Christmas songs. The consequences of voting are enormous. You contribute to our top 100 countdown which we play this Sunday, and you also score yourself an invitation to our Christmas party.

In yesterday’s little instalment of this series, we talked about how you are assigned to a virtual table at our Christmas party and can engage with your table mates. You can of course also hurtle a little bit of friendly Christmas banter at those at other tables. But there’s one other element to our Christmas party we’d like to highlight, and that’s some friendly competition between tables.

To encourage your participation in the spirit of the season, if you make a contribution via Twitter or email that is meritorious in the opinion of the fun guy on air, you’re awarded Christmas crackers for your table. We keep a scoreboard which is available in real-time for everyone to view, so you can see where your table ranks.

Why Christmas crackers are awarded, and how many, is completely in the hands of the host. Behind the scenes, we have an awesome web interface available to the team which allows us to allocate crackers and update the scoreboard.

When we began this holiday tradition, we soon realised that Christmas crackers aren’t very common in the US, and many people from that part of the world thought we were referring to food. For many of us, Christmas crackers are an essential part of the Christmas table, with a cracker placed above the plate. So what are they?

They were first made in the mid-1800s by a London sweet maker, Tom Smith. He had seen the French 'bon bon' sweets (almonds wrapped in pretty paper) on a visit to Paris in 1840. He returned to London and tried selling similar sweets in England. They came with a small motto or riddle. Sadly for Tom at the time but luckily for us, they didn't sell very well. So our hero had to think about how to develop his idea to be viable commercially.

Legend says that one night, while he was sitting in front of his log fire, he became fixated with the sparks and crackles coming from the fire. He thought it would be fun if his sweets and toys could be opened with a crack when their fancy wrappers were pulled in half.

In 1861 Tom Smith launched his new range of what he called 'Bangs of Expectation'! It's thought that he bought the recipe for the small cracks and bangs in crackers from a fireworks company called Brock’s Fireworks.

Crackers were also nicknamed 'cosaques' and were thought to be named after the 'Cossack' soldiers who had a reputation for riding on their horses and firing guns into the air.

When Tom died, his expanding cracker business was taken over by his three sons, Tom, Walter and Henry. Walter turned out to be the innovator. He introduced the hats into crackers and travelled around the world looking for new ideas for gifts to put in the crackers.

The company developed a range of 'themed' crackers. There were crackers for bachelors and spinsters (single men and women), where the gifts were items like false teeth and wedding rings! There were also crackers for Suffragettes (women who campaigned to get women the vote), war heroes and even Charlie Chaplain! Crackers were also made for special occasions like Coronations. The British Royal Family still has special crackers made for them today!

Very expensive crackers were made such as the 'Millionaire's Crackers' which contained a solid silver box with a piece of gold and silver jewellery inside it!

Of course we’re now in the era of mass-production, and the Christmas Crackers that are used today, readily available from supermarkets in many parts of the world, are short cardboard tubes wrapped in colourful paper. There is normally a Cracker next to each plate on the Christmas dinner table. When the crackers are pulled - with a bang! - a colourful party hat, a toy or gift and a festive joke falls out! The party hats look like crowns and it is thought that they symbolise the crowns that might have been worn by the Wise Men.

Crackers are famous for their very bad jokes, and we try to bring you some of these during our Christmas party.

So, you’d be crackers not to take part! If you’ve already voted, thank you. Be sure all your friends and family have too. If you’ve not voted yet, time really is running out. Head on over to our accessible voting form and do it today. and join us at 9 AM Eastern time, 2 PM UK on Sunday.