Nothing encapsulates the excitement of Christmas gift-giving like a beautiful basket full of exciting goodies.
Here we delve into the history of the Christmas hamper, let you in on some top hamper-building tips, and give you a run-through of our very own chocolate hampers.
When Did the Christmas Hamper Tradition Begin?
Not only do we have the French to thank for inventing the likes of the parachute, photograph, and aspirin, they’re also generally credited for creating the concept of the much-loved ‘hamper.’
In Britain, we can trace the treat-filled wicker basket back to 1066 at the time of William the Conqueror’s rule. In the 11th century, hampers were being used as a means to give food, drinks and clothes to families hit by hard times.
As you might expect, the word ‘hamper’ and its meaning began to evolve into terms such as ‘hanaper’ (a small wicker case used to store important documents) in the 1200s, along with its different uses.
Fast forward to 1706 and you have individuals travelling the country by stagecoach. These long journeys necessitated food and drink on board, so hampers were used by travellers to carry everything they needed for a pleasant dining experience on the road.
Trains and hampers
Although treat baskets were introduced to England as early as the 11th century, it was not until the Victorian era that these bountiful gifts really grew in popularity. Of course, this is unsurprising when the extensive development of the railways throughout the 1800s made it infinitely easier to send goods up and down the country. All of a sudden, friends and families could feasibly send perishable goods nestled in hampers far and wide.
Hampers offered a way to send numerous items at a time in one safe case, which was particularly useful if you were gifting to a family.
When sending goods this way became not only possible but slightly more affordable, everyone wanted to put a smile on a loved one’s face by sending such an abundant display of their love.
Hampers became somewhat of a tradition as more were sent to and fro between loved ones and relations.
Cars and hampers
The invention of the automobile revolutionised the game once more as carrying tea sets including tea kettles and burners meant it was always possible to pause a journey for a hot beverage — a rather tempting and luxurious prospect for both drivers and passengers.
As the ways in which these hampers could be transported became more sophisticated, so did their uses, and thus, the contents of the baskets. On the one hand, baskets were still often used to deliver essential food and clothing supplies to those most in need, on the other hand, the wealthy were curating lavish baskets proudly presently delicacies to share with friends.
Dishes were now even being created with hampers in mind. In 1738, London-based grocers Fortnum & Mason’s created their Scotch Egg, a great example of what would become a classic picnic basket-filler and centrepiece, especially when picnics took off as a popular past-time amongst the affluent in the 1800s.
Alongside this progression, people began developing the tradition of putting a few items in a simple wicker basket as a Christmas present, before gradually making the hamper bigger, generally sturdier, and more aesthetically pleasing.
Modern Day Christmas Hamper Traditions
Traditional Christmas hampers are packed full of gourmet delights and treats, and as they become more widely used, their contents are diversifying to suit the recipient.
For example, whilst they make a heartfelt Christmas gift for your foodie friend, or to shower your family with their favourite items you’ve remembered over the years, they’re also great for corporate gifting. Whether you need to say thanks to a colleague or want to reach out to a loyal client, hampers show you’re willing to go the extra mile and really do care.
You might have also seen hampers offered up as raffle prizes at Christmas parties and fundraising events, and for an excellent reason — they present a beautiful array of goodies everyone wants a chance of winning.
It’s not uncommon for modern-day Christmas hampers to include tasty items such as fine chocolates, wine, spirits and liqueurs, jams, spreads and chutneys, biscuits, and sweet treats.
What Should Be in a Christmas Hamper?
There isn’t really a solid answer to the question ‘What should be in a Christmas hamper?’ as this is completely up to you! We will say, however, that you should keep the tastes of the person you’re buying for at the front of your mind at all times. It can be tempting to get caught up with thinking about what you’d like if you were receiving it, but try to remember any specific items they told you that they particularly like or have even recommended to you.
That being said, there are a few things that are pretty much guaranteed to be a hit whoever the recipient, such as chocolate (even if they are vegan, you can now get dairy-free chocolate), simple but high-quality biscuits or biscotti, and some organic tea.
Whilst it can be tempting to include alcohol, unless you know for sure that they’re a drinker, it’s best to spend your money on other items.
As hampers usually revolve around food (the way to anyone’s heart), to make your hamper special it’s nice to focus on including fewer higher quality items — things they wouldn’t buy themselves in their weekly supermarket shop. This little bit of luxury will make your recipient feel extra spoilt.
Look out for natural, organic, artisanal, ethical, eco-friendly, homemade, or top-quality items. Even better, if you can think of something that they love to eat, you could try to find a more premium substitute. They’ll taste the difference immediately and be blown away by the effort you went to.
Homemade Christmas Hamper or Store-Bought?
It makes no difference whether your hamper is lovingly filled at home or extensively researched and store-bought — all that matters is that you’ve or purchased it with the lucky recipient in mind.
If you’re making the hamper at home, this can have some advantages. Obviously, you yourself will have complete control over what goes into the hamper, meaning you can personalise to the max.
This is a good option if the recipient is your partner or a loved one that you know well, as this gives you the scope to include things like their favourite chocolate or a nostalgic wine that you once shared on a special occasion. You can also include some additional sentimental items such as a letter telling them how much you appreciate them and some handmade goodies.
On the other hand, if you’re a bit strapped for time and stuck for choice, a store-bought hamper could be the way to go. You’ll be able to browse a few different options and choose one with items you think the recipient will be surprised and delighted to receive.
Brand-specific store-bought hampers are fantastic if you know that someone has a penchant for a particular brand, as although you haven’t hand-picked every individual item, it still shows you care about them and listen to their likes and dislikes. They can also be great value for money, as these hampers often cost less than if you were to purchase each separate item and the packaging yourself.
If your hamper is for a raffle, client, or colleague; or rather, someone that you either don’t know at all or don’t know very well, you’ll lack the insight into the recipient’s personal tastes required to make creating a handmade hamper worthwhile.
Store-bought hampers have been planned to contain a varied selection of items that have a good chance of pleasing even the pickiest of recipients. It’s still a sensible idea to find out if the person receiving the hamper is likely to have any allergies or dietary requirements and whether they drink alcohol to avoid choosing one containing problematic items.
Our Christmas Hampers
At Hotel Chocolat, we only want you to give gifts to people that are going to put sparkles in their eyes. We know that everyone has different preferences, which is why we’ve created a few different chocolate hamper options.
Everyone knows a salted caramel fanatic, and we’ve curated their hamper of dreams — The Salted Caramel Hamper Collection. From Salted Caramel & Pecan Chocolate Spread to Salted Caramel Vodka Liqueur, it’s salted caramel ‘dulce de leche’ everything in here.
For lovers of salted caramel who never say no to a bit of fizz, there’s The Chocolate & Fizz Collection. This is a sort of ‘mini everything’ hamper with Salted Caramel Puddles, Champagne Chocolate, Truffles, Prosecco, a Dark Fruit and Nut Nano Slab, and a Salted Caramel Nano Slab. A simple and classy way to say ‘Merry Christmas.’
The Everything Chocolate Gift Hamper Collection (like it says on the tin) includes a range of different chocolate treats, perfect for the chocoholic in your life. This would also work well for someone you’d like to reach out to even if you’re not quite sure of their chocolatey tastes. With this bountiful bundle, they’ll be getting their mitts on some Billionaire’s Shortbread, 70% Dark Fruit & Nut Nano Slab, and a Patisserie Mini Selection amongst other delights.
For gin lovers, we recommend The Chocolate & Gin Gift Collection — gin-flavoured chocolates and our original, small-batch Cocoa Gin. With this one, the gin is truly the star of the show, featuring hints of juniper, zesty Minneolas, coriander, and of course, our Saint Lucian cocoa shells. They’ll receive Gin Truffles and some Supermilk 65 Chocolate Puddles in addition to two 50ml bottles of cocoa gin.
For those that prefer a brew to spirits, The Beer and Chocolate Hamper could be right up their street. They’ll get to enjoy some expertly selected chocolates with two beers – the Cacao Blonde, a pale ale infused with tropical fruits and bitter notes of cacao, and Cacao Beer, a dark and not-so-sweet porter-style ale with malty notes and undertones of bitter chocolate.
The All Dark Vegan Chocolate Hamper Collection is a sure-fire way to please any of your dairy-free or vegan pals. This bumper hamper includes 70% Dark Chocolate Ginger Puddles, an 80% Fruit & Nut Dark Slab, a 70% Dark Chocolate Slab, one Mini Hazelnut Buche Log, a Dark Chocolate & Cocoa Nibs Slab, and a Dark Chocolate Pocket Box. Everything’s better on the dark side.
If you’re looking to really push the boat out take a look at the Large Chocolate Hamper including some of our best-loved creations. You’ll find an Everything H-Box, a few different chocolate Slabs, and a Cocoa Tea Pillow Pack amongst other great gifts tucked up in this one — a hamper packed full of cocoa in its most popular forms.
Most importantly, all our chocolate is expertly crafted with our ‘more cacao, less sugar’ mentality, bringing you the richest, most balanced flavour notes in every bite. You’ll be pleased to know that we use absolutely nothing artificial in our recipes, they are, however, packed with years of expertise.
Take a look at our complete chocolate hamper collection.
To learn more about the beans behind the bars, see our other blog articles.