A Short History Of Hampers
Hampers are a traditional English Christmas gift, but how did the tradition begin?
Don't be hampered by a lack of knowledge—here is everything you wanted to know about the subject but were afraid to ask...
The origin of the hamper Perhaps William the Conqueror brought the first hamper to England. The word derives from the Old French hanapier, meaning a case for holding goblets. The modern hamper is usually a wicker basket or box containing food and other festive goodies—though there are many variations on the theme.
Hampers as charity
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, it was the task of a noble lady to provide charity to the poor people living on her estates. This was often in the form of a hamper of food. The wicker basket allowed air to circulate, keeping the food fresh for longer. Gifts of clothes might be used as padding to wrap the more fragile items.
The Christmas hamper tradition
Hampers are usually given at Christmas time. This is an offshoot of the old Boxing Day tradition, when masters would give their servants boxes of useful items on the day after Christmas. Today, some people still give Christmas hampers to employees, and they are also common gifts between family and friends.
Hampered by a hamper?
Traditionally a hamper was delivered by hand, the giver carrying it directly to the home of the recipient. This meant that the size of a hamper was limited to what one person could carry, and it could only contain enough food for a week or two.
The hamper goes upmarket
In the Victorian era hampers became a favourite of the upper classes, and were popular at high-society events such as the Henley Regatta and the Ascot Races. Fortnum and Mason made its name by providing these luxury food hampers to English aristocrats.
The world's most expensive picnic basket was a trailer-mounted, wicker-and-brass picnic hamper set, complete with Baccarat crystal, Limoges porcelain, and mahogany folding tables and chairs to accommodate 16. It sold at Christie's in 2005 for US$144,000.
Hampers are not restricted to festive food. You can order a hamper of books, a hamper of bath goodies, or a hamper packed with the things a new mum needs for her baby. Who can resist a selection of goodies packed in a wicker basket?
Modern charity hampers
Not all today's hampers are packed with luxury items. Many organisations still deliver charity hampers to needy families. The contents have not changed much since Victorian times, usually including food, clothes, toys and household goods. Much more practical than caviar and champagne!