Holiday Magic: The History of the Christmas Hamper Explained

Christmas Hamper

One of the most magical things about the Christmas season is traditions. 

Some families put out milk and cookies for Santa. Others hang stockings above the fireplace.

One of the things that make traditions so special is that they're often passed from one generation to the next – sometimes, without us knowing exactly why.

Have you ever wondered why your family does certain things around the holidays? Gifting loved ones with Christmas hampers is a long-time tradition in British culture. 

This article will explain the history of the Christmas hamper and how exactly this heartfelt gift came to be.

Grab your hot cocoa and let's get started!


When and Where the Tradition Began

As with most traditions, the Christmas hamper was once meant to represent something very different. The concept of hampers was first introduced to England by France and gained popularity during the Victorian period. 

The wicker basket filled with delicious and savory treats dates back to 1066 when William the Conqueror ruled Britain.  

In 11th century Britain, the hampers were filled with food, drinks, and even clothing. Then, the baskets were first given as a charitable offering to poor or impoverished families. In some cases, the supplies could last a single family for several weeks. 

As the years passed, the word 'hamper' evolved and with it, it's meaning. In the 1200s, hampers, also known as "hanapers", were used by some to store important documents. 

Several more historical events transformed the name and use of the hamper. 

In 1706, people began to travel by stagecoach. This meant passengers would need food and drink for their journey. Hampers became a popular choice among many travelers dining en route. 

The expansion of the railroad system in the late 1800s changed the way people and goods traveled. The railways made it easier for families and friends to send Christmas hampers long-distances as presents.

With the invention of the automobile came even more changes. Some baskets soon included tea kettles and burners. This allowed travelers to stop along the way for a calming, hot beverage.

But transportation wasn't the only feature that became more sophisticated. The contents of the Christmas hamper also evolved with some of the more lavish baskets showcasing delicacies like lobster. 

It was around this time that the history of the Christmas hamper also evolved from a simple wicker basket carrying food and drink to a cherished gift given to those you love most. 


Giving and Receiving Christmas Hampers

Although Christmas hampers were often filled with the same type of items – including wine, produce, meats, and sweet treats – they were given for several different reasons.


Gifts for Family and Friends

Then and now, Christmas hampers are seen as a gesture of love and goodwill between friends and family. Many holiday traditions surround good food, good drink, and good people, making the Christmas hamper the perfect gift.

Because many of the items found in a Christmas hamper are perishable (like fruits, meats, and cheeses), fast delivery is a must. Often times family members would arrange delivery right before the holidays or hand-deliver them that day. The goods would then be shared and enjoyed together as a main part of the festivities


Charity Hampers

The origin of the Christmas hamper is deeply routed in charity, philanthropy, and community. Filled with daily necessities for families, these hampers were gifted to those less fortunate. 

Most charity hampers included items like food, toiletries, household goods and products, and clothing. But the contents of the hampers weren't the only useful items. Once empty, the basket itself was used for storage purposes by many. 

Modern-day charity hampers include mostly non-perishable items like canned and packaged foods, as well as household items. The container is usually a basket, box, or bag. Many community organizations offer these baskets to families in need both during the holidays and all year long.


Hampers for Servants

In time, Christmas hampers became a popular gift for wealthy families to offer maids, servants, and other staff members during the holiday season. These gifts were given on Boxing Day, which is the day after Christmas. In British tradition, December 26th was a day meant for employers to give gifts of appreciation to their employees. 

These hampers were filled with food, clothing, and other useful items for the servants to enjoy with their families during the holiday season.


Modern-Day Christmas Hampers

Although Christmas hampers have changed and evolved over the years, their main purpose and contents have stayed the same. The tradition is steeped in offering plentiful and useful gifts to both loved ones and those in need.

The history of the Christmas hamper is clear in even the modern-day varieties. Here are a few examples of the types of Christmas hampers of today.


Corporate Hampers

When it comes to gift-giving inside the office, it can be hard to find the perfect present. Most offices are diverse, made up of both men and women of various ages. 

Corporate Christmas hampers are a great gift whether you're the boss giving to employees or buying as part of a Secret Santa event.

Wine, cheese, and crackers make for the perfect Christmas gift anyone will enjoy. Not sure if you should give alcohol as a gift at work? Opt for a hamper filled with delicious jams, cookies, crackers, and chocolates.


Special Occasion Hampers

While the name 'Christmas hamper' implies that these bountiful bundles are only given during the holiday season, this isn't entirely true. Hampers make great gifts for weddings, baby showers, and birthdays!

Choose items that complement the event you're celebrating and the person receiving it. 


The History of the Christmas Hamper is Rich and Magical

There's something heartwarming about carrying on family traditions. The history of the Christmas hamper teaches us that the holidays are just as much about giving as receiving.

Baskets filled with practical (and delicious) items are something everyone can enjoy.

Want to make your hamper truly unique? Learn more about creating your own here!

Have questions or want to learn more about our specialty items? Contact us today and let's get started creating the perfect gift.


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