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Illustration showing turkey plucking in the 1900s

Putting on The Perfect Christmas Party

It’s hard to imagine now, but in the early part of the nineteenth century, Britain hardly celebrated Christmas. Many didn’t even consider it a holiday. By the latter part of the century, however, the Victorians had become responsible for completely reinvigorating customs that had lain dormant for so long, putting particular emphasis on the importance of spending quality time with those closest to us.

Make Your Own Christmas Mincemeat Wraps

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Sainsbury's Christmas Food Selection, c. 1990

Christmas ‘Party’? What Ever Do You Mean?

To a Victorian family - and, of course, John James Sainsbury, his wife Mary Ann and their children were very much a typical Victorian family - the notion of a ‘Christmas party’ would be vastly different to one we might think of today.

They were far more intimate affairs where families, especially those from the upper and middle classes, would play boxed parlour games, regale the family with stories and enjoy a feast of luxury foods that were saved for such a special occasion.  

Around the late nineteenth century, Sainsbury’s started to sell all the foods required to supply the Christmas party of the time: the turkey, ingredients for the Christmas pudding and, by the 1920s, a leaflet or recipe card, giving some tips on how to really get the family’s mouths watering. 

Christmas parties continued to be fairly intimate affairs, but the table spread changed drastically as Sainsbury’s expanded its product lines massively from the 1930s onwards. When rationing ended after the war, a trip to the local store was no longer limited to purchasing a turkey and some Christmas pudding ingredients, but might also have involved a bottle of wine or two, some fresh meats, and perhaps even a selection of cheeses and other items that we associate with a modern Christmas party.

Range of Quality Products - Sainsbury's

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Sainsbury's Magazine Front Cover, December 1994

The Christmas Party: Evolved

Family gatherings and togetherness have always been a big part of Christmas celebrations, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that the concept of the Christmas party, as we know it today, really gathered steam.

In the 1950s, Sainsbury’s opened its first self-service store in Croydon, allowing consumers to browse stores at their own pace, place items from the shelves into a basket and then pay for them at a till, for the first time.​

This allowed the store to sell a greater range of products to customers, who were becomingly increasingly discerning - especially around Christmas. This increase in choice meant that customers now literally had all the ingredients they needed to begin throwing more ambitious parties. Combined with more accessible transport and higher disposable incomes, more people had the chance to indulge at Christmas. 

Sainsbury’s even began offering advice on Christmas party games in the 1950s. One such game was ‘Shake the Penny’, where the host of the party shakes the hand of a guest on arrival and secretly tells them to “get rid of this before everyone is seated, and tell whoever you give it to, to do the same thing”. The person left with the penny was the loser. 

As the 21st century approached, the Christmas party had evolved into something almost unrecognisable from its humble origins. Sainsbury’s has continued to improve its offerings as a one-stop shop for any conceivable party item, from Christmas crackers and cold meats to wine and whipped cream. With people regularly hosting gatherings that bring family and friends together from miles away, Sainsbury’s even introduced a party platter service to deliver freshly prepared party food items direct to the family home. 

These days, Sainsbury’s offers everything from Christmas cocktail recipes to presents and Christmas trees - and delivery direct to your door. Recipe and party ideas are all over the website and Christmas products go on sale months in advance, to give busy families as much time as possible to plan the perfect party.