Our Christmas Hamper
I know most people will be familiar with Christmas hampers but this isn’t one that we do as a gift this is one we do for us at home!
Let me start at the beginning. When we were children there were two jobs we would pester my parents to do in December. The first, as I’m sure many children do, was to put up the Christmas decorations; lets face it once they were up you knew Christmas was on its way. The second was always referred to as ‘the sideboard’ and its one of those family traditions that no one else will understand what you mean unless you explain what it is, which is why I thought I would start at the beginning.
When Christmas came around it was planned for months in advance so that the cost could be spread. My parents shopped a lot from the market where things were cheap and there was always this particular stall that they would head to which had cheap food on it. It was perhaps past its best buy date or very often foreign branding but, standing there as a child, I didn’t care and more to the point this was the fuel for the Christmas sideboard.
My parents would buy food that they saw cheap in the weeks before and it would get stored away in a cupboard where it wasn’t to be touched. Near Christmas the food would come out from its hiding place and a tablecloth would be placed on top of our sideboard. My mother would move the fruit bowl, which the rest of the year took centre stage, and put it to one side knowing full well that fruit wasn’t going to really be on the menu. My sister and I were then allowed to adorn the sideboard with these treats. We’d arrange them nicely stood on their sides so it was almost displayed like a shop window. I have to say it was one of my favourite parts of Christmas, creating this treasure trove of goodies.
Certain things made an appearance year on year. Those jelly orange an lemon slices that were covered in sugar, I never liked them but my sister did! Then there was always a long white plastic tray filled with dates which came with the little wooden fork/prong to eat them with - they were always last to be eaten! We used to have tins or packets of cheese straws which were like a crispy wafer with fake cheese in the middle of them. It wasn’t until I was a teen that I realised a different type of cheese straw made with proper pastry actually existed. There was always shortbread and sometimes if you were lucky a box of chocolate biscuits.
Usually there would be some sort of wrapped chocolate in a basket but they were rarely branded and it was like playing chocolate roulette not knowing biting into it if it was going to be filled with the winning caramel or the losing (and quite frankly disgusting) coffee crème! Nuts in their shells were a Christmas staple on the sideboard and as a child you could spend hours trying to crack them, spreading shards of shell all over the living room. Even then you’d still only ever manage to crack a few because they were so tough it took you all your strength. But it was these and a whole host of other random delights that made it 'our sideboard'.
It wasn’t just food either. There was always a box of Christmas crackers placed at the side ready for the Christmas dinner table (my Dad seemed to have an endless supply of these in the loft) and then there was always a basket of ‘trinkets’ (essentially tat that children love to play with!) from Christmases past. Things like unused party hats, paper streamers and stuff you get in crackers like fortune telling fish or jumping frogs and there were always some party poppers. Lets face it health and safety didn’t matter back then, it was perfectly acceptable to let your children play with minor explosives!
At no other point in the year did we have such a treat as ‘the sideboard’ it wasn’t something that could be afforded in a family on a tight budget. Christmas was the only time this ever happened and I think because of that it made it extra special and I looked forward to it the whole year through.
The point to all this food was that over the week of Christmas we were allowed to help ourselves to whatever we wanted, what a treat not having to ask! We were still taught manners and you weren’t allowed to be greedy and eat all of one thing you had to make sure you left some for others. Only once can I remember eating most of the shortbread and being told off and in fairness I had eaten far too much and quite rightly deserved it!
Once the sideboard was decorated we would pester my parents for days with the phrase ‘Can we have something from the sideboard?’ and the answer would always be ‘No not yet’. Essentially they would wait until as close to Christmas eve as they could before they let us unleash ourselves on it and if they had let us beforehand no doubt we’d have eaten half of it by the time Christmas day came.
In essence my parents always bought far too much food and we would still be eating things in our school pack up come February. But I dare say this was also perhaps a very savvy budgeting strategy on my parents behalf too as they knew in the months following when money was tight they’d have food to feed us.
There was also a secondary purpose to this sideboard full of food. If we had visitors then there was always food out to offer to them. For my mum it meant that she didn’t need to find space to store a whole load of extra food in her tiny kitchen and also she then didn’t need to actively ‘host’ either. In fact when my grandparents came on Christmas day I think my sister and I probably unintentionally hosted them for her shouting from the sideboard ‘Nan, Grandad, do you want one of these?’
Its no surprise that when I moved into my own home I wanted to continue this tradition. When Mr OMC and I had our first house and chose to host some festivities we had to try and mash up both of our family traditions into one. Some things didn’t make the cut but the sideboard was something I was not prepared to let go of, the only issue was we didn’t have a sideboard! The first couple of years I used a plastic storage box that we placed in the living room and filled with treats. My mother-in-law thought it was a great idea as everyone dived in and helped themselves, but there was still something missing.
A plastic storage box wasn’t quite hitting the mark and then I walking through Home Bargains one day I saw a wicker hamper that was lined with a lovely deep red material and our Christmas hamper was born! I have to say I bought it begrudgingly thinking it wouldn’t last and could quite possibly be a waste of money, but years later it’s still going strong and it’s now part of our family Christmas. The Coffee Beans can’t wait to see it filled and they love helping themselves out of it.
This might sound like an excessive thing to do but it’s our Christmas treat and we use it as a replacement for other things they would have. We found that saying they can have something out of the hamper for their pudding is a great way to get the Coffee Beans to eat their fruit and vegetables through the Christmas season. Sometimes with a tired little one at the Christmas the least battles you can have the better. At least with this incentive we don't have to suffer the daily battle of ‘you must eat your carrots’!
So if you’re thinking this hamper sounds great but want some more ideas of what to put in it, here’s a few to get you started.
Please note that I’m not advertising any of these products they are merely a list of things we have used in our hamper at one point or another. All photos on the blog were taken from the Sainsburys website (unless otherwise stated) but I am not affiliated to them in any way.