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.
A number of companies exist that sell ready-made food hampers or provide customers the service of compiling a custom hamper for them, which may involve company staff going shopping for requested specific items on behalf of individual customers. Such hampers are popular gift items in the UK and Ireland. Hamper companies usually link their services to certain occasions, most particularly Christmas, and provide options for payment across the year. Grocers, delis and supermarkets may also stock ready-made hampers, though mostly just on a seasonal basis, and with a selection generally limited to items stocked by the store or sourced from their own suppliers.
Recently dietary hamper companies have sprung up which provide sufferers of diseases such as diabetes or those intolerant to foods such as gluten a selection of food which is suitable.