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Gift Giving Past
(How times have changed)




     Gift Giving Past
(how times have changed)






Gift giving past customs in days gone by

Gift giving past shows that, like many other social behaviours, these too have changed over time. The customs associated with the giving of gifts in times past were often very different from those of today.

Wedding present lists

These days when a couple are planning to get married they will usually create a list of items they want. This this list is then placed in a gift registry (now usually online) so that any of the wedding guests who so wish can make their selection.

Because many couples co-habit before the wedding they often have most of the household items they'd need so the gift list may be comprised of gifts of money towards bigger items.

Some 50 years ago when I got married the couple would write a present list. This would either be handwritten or, if you knew someone who worked in an office, might be typed.

This list was then only sent, by post, to those invited to the wedding who asked to see it.

After choosing their gift, they’d cross it off the list and return the list to the bride or her parents. Under no circumstances was the list offered without being requested. 

Many guests didn’t request the list and simply bought a household item they deemed appropriate and which they could afford.

newspaper cutting of wedding in 1909Newspaper cutting of my grandparents' wedding in 1909

At that time most couples lived at home with their parents before the wedding so had no household items of their own.

It was a standing joke to ask after the wedding how many toasters the couple had received because, for some reason, electric toasters were a popular gift among givers.

A few weeks after our own wedding we’d been invited to that of a couple of friends. We had to turn down the invitation  - we said we had a previous engagement but the truth was that we just couldn’t even afford the bus fare to get there.

They had a set of saucepans on their list which we managed to get for them with Green Shield stamps that we’d saved.

Gift giving past - Weddings 100 years ago

newspaper cutting of wedding in 1909Newspaper cutting of my grandparents' wedding in 1909

I have a cutting from the newspaper which describes the wedding of my grandparents in 1909. This doesn't mention what the wedding gifts were - that would have been in bad taste in those days. Instead it states:

"The presents were very numerous and beautiful."


Gift giving past at Christmas

Christmas has changed a lot just during my lifetime, becoming far more commercialised.

I'm always telling my own children and grandchildren that the stockings Santa left us were filled with things like a tangerine, a colouring book, maybe a comic and a handkerchief or a comb. Chocolate only came in small quantities.

But Christmas paper hats are definitely not what they were!

My grandmother had a substantial hat which she brought out to wear for Christmas Dinner each year. It was made of ivory coloured  crepe paper and was decorated with a sequinned crescent and a large white feather. She had probably had it since the 1930s at least.

Christmas 1952 two children and grandmother with paper hatsChristmas 1952. My sister is wearing my grandmother's very elaborate Christmas hat.

Nevertheless, paper hats of my early childhood were not the flimsy, badly fitting, tissue paper scraps we get today which now nearly always come in a crown shape.  I recall each of us finding not only a hat of a different colour in our cracker but also one that was often a different shape. We had crowns, but also triangular hats, rounded hats, etc.  

As well as the hats, the Christmas crackers that we pulled were substantial items too and were not available as cheaply as today. I also recall us having mini-crackers about 6ins long that still contained gifts and pulled with a bang just like the bigger ones.

Having been born in Victorian times my grandmother always referred to crackers as "bonbons".

Crackers were invented in 1848 by Tom Smith who was a sweet maker. In those days sweets were known as bonbons. Tom Smith had seen sugared almonds wrapped in paper during a visit to Paris and came up with the idea of the cracker as a way of selling his sweets. His crackers were originally filled with sweets - which is why they were known to the Victorians as "bonbons".

The BBC has a great deal of information about the Victorian Christmas on their website.

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