Around this time of year, I get the urge to make something homemade. One year I made beaded bracelets, another I knitted scarves. This year, however, I’m taking the more traditional approach – British traditional that is – of making Christmas hampers for family and friends.
Just to clarify, I am not weaving laundry baskets and passing them off as gifts. Hampers is actually a catchall for gifts – holiday, birthday, weddings, etc – that you neatly place in a basket. But what makes them a British tradition?
“Look where I will…. I see Fortnum & Mason. All the hampers fly wide open and the green downs burst into a blossom of lobster salad!”. – Charles Dickens
The act of giving hampers as gifts dates back many centuries. However, the popularity of hampers in Britain didn’t quite take off until the Victorian age. The tradition was so popular in fact that Queen Victoria was rumored to have sent one to Florence Nightingale and Charles Dickens was known to treat himself to a hamper each time he finished a book.
Traditional hampers were reserved for travelers going a great distance by coach or for servants on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). Hampers were filled with a variety of food items for the traveler’s trip; while servants may have received food items or other gifts from their masters as a thank you for their service.
More modern hampers, which are most often associated with Christmas, still focus on food but may also include wine or liquors, chocolates or other sweets, coffee or hot chocolate, tea, candles, or other small gift items. Although many still gift hampers to friends and family, hampers are also given to employees, business clients and associates, etc.
Nowadays, hampers can come in may shapes and sizes and can be filled with just about anything to fit anyone’s budget. Some of the most popular, and luxurious/expensive, hampers can be found at Harrods, Selfridges, and Fortnum and Mason; however nearly every retailer that deals with food or wine offers some kind of hamper around the holidays, including less costly stores like Harvey Nichols and Marks and Spencer.
So what’s in my Christmas hamper this year? Cookies, caramels, cheesecake bits, crispy treats, peanut brittle and more. Now don’t you wish you were on my Christmas list!
Learn how to make your own British-style Christmas hamper.