When we think of a hamper nowadays, it’s more likely to mean a basket overflowing with sweet treats and bottles of bubbly than the original wicker picnic baskets or containers farm-workers used to transport fruit and veg. In fact, from personalised chocolate collections to value bundles, our luxury hampers at iGift Fruit Hampers are some of our favourite ways to say thank you or ‘get well soon’. But how did this once utilitarian container turn into one of the most indulgent gifts we can give? We took a look back through history to find out the origins of hampers and when people started giving them as gifts…
Hampers as food carriers
The first hampers were simply used to carry food in early agricultural society. Basket-making guilds in Britain date back to at least the 15th century, and wickerwork was produced much earlier in the Medieval period. These baskets would only have been used to cart farm produce back from the fields and to market, as the woven material was sturdy and light enough to hoist on your back. Raw foods straight from the earth like turnips and potatoes are a far cry from the tasty fruits, chocolate, gourmet food and alcohol we pack in our hampers today!
Hampers as lunch packs
The other major use for hampers was transporting your own food – from travellers contemplating a lengthy coach journey to field-labourers setting out for a day’s work, hampers were used to fuel the long hours ahead. They naturally would have contained more simple fare than that nice bottle of Prosecco that you might find in gift hampers now, but staples like meats, cheeses and bread are still part of the wider tradition of hamper-giving today.
When travelling the country and Continental Europe became fashionable for the elite in the 18th Century, hampers became a little more upscale, and might have featured things like game pies, preserves and fruit cake to keep ladies and gentlemen going on the road. Coaching inns began to provide them to send their esteemed patrons on their way.
Hampers are often synonymous with picnic baskets, and although food was taken out for hunting expeditions in the Medieval era, the leisurely picnic-for-picnic’s sake only became popular in the Victorian period. Summer days in the 1800s for the gentry would be filled with parties heading out into the country and to sporting events like Eton cricket matches and days at Epsom Derby, though the set-up was a lot more formal then – servants would have to carry tables and chairs out for the picnickers to lounge on!
Hampers as gifts
Others had found a different use for hampers potentially as early as the Norman Conquest, with reports of William the Conqueror himself bringing baskets of gifts across the Channel. In any case, the roots of the word, from the French ‘hanapier’ meaning a case of goblets certainly suggest some Continental influence was involved somewhere!
However, it wasn’t really until much later that hampers became something to give to another, rather than consuming yourself. Well-off Victorian families started a tradition of giving a hamper to their staff at Christmas, although these often contained things like clothes and useful tools to set them up for the rest of the year.
This seasonal gift-giving spread and became more sustainable with the advent of the railways during the early 19th century, when fresh foods could be transported quickly enough to reach those in another county, or even country. More functional, energy-building foods for the lunch hamper like cheese and bread were gradually replaced with jellies, chocolates and fine wines for a gift hamper.
Our hamper selection
Whether it’s a selfless gesture to someone far away who needs it, or a cheer-up treat for a friend who’s had a hard time, hampers can now fit almost any occasion. They’re still used for saying thanks to hard-working employees, or just as a gesture to relatives on the other side of the world, as reminder that you’re thinking of them.
As for our hampers at iGift Fruit Hampers, they obviously reflect our love of all things fruit! With gifts like the Fruit Box Hampers, from Fruit Basket Gifts to Fruit Towers and Fruit Hampers with Chocolate, we like to think our hampers continue the historic tradition of making people smile.
You can also widen the appeal for any wine aficionados out there, with our Champagne and Wine Hampers including rich fruity reds, crisp chilled whites and a touch of fizz if you want to help someone celebrate. Chocolate liqueur hampers are available for real chocolate fans, and beer and whisky drinkers aren’t left out either, with our Special Alcohol hampers.
Though we’ve seen that hampers have a long and illustrious past as useful lunch packs, noble charity donations and seasonal gifts, the best part about modern hampers is that you can make your hamper say exactly what you want to say, with personalised special occasion bundles. Whether you have a son or daughter who’s passed their driving test, nailed important exams or even welcomed a new addition to the family, include a personalised card and you can congratulate them personally!
A Christmas hamper is a traditional gift containing small nonperishable food items, particularly seasonal favorites such as fruitcake or plum pudding, chocolate, nuts, jams, biscuits, honey, smoked or dried meats, and cheese. Some hampers containing tea, coffee, or cocoa might also include a cup and saucer, often seasonally themed or personalized. Luxury hampers may also contain high-end items such as tins of caviar or small bottles of wine. A “fresh hamper” contains perishable items such as fruits, baked goods, or flowers. The tradition of the Christmas hamper may be intended as a special holiday meal for people who might otherwise have no memorable meal to mark the occasion, or for people such as students or shut-ins who are unable to join their families for Christmas.
In the US, the Christmas hamper is more usually called a gift basket and does not necessarily contain food items. Non-food gift baskets are frequently themed, such as baskets containing luxury bath items including scented soaps and towels, or beauty baskets with skincare products, perfumes, or lotions. These gift baskets are also popular for occasions other than Christmas.