AS questions go, they have become even more synonymous with Christmas than turkey, mistletoe and online sales shopping.
Alongside the age-old favourites such as ‘Do I really have to have sprouts, mum?’, ‘Did you keep the receipt, dad?’ and ‘What time does The Great Escape start?’, few queries are more festive than ‘Is it too early to open my selection box?’
For all the continued popularity of Quality Street, Roses, and those johnny-come-latelys, Heroes and Celebrations, nothing says ‘Eat Me’ more than an over-packaged assortment of popular chocolate bars. Apart from a box of dried dates, obviously, but they can be discounted on health reasons.
This year, millions of selection boxes will be unwrapped across the country from the wee small hours of Christmas Day, continuing a tradition that goes back over 100 years.
The nation’s love of chocolate goes back hundreds of years and Yorkshire confectioners have long been at the forefront of pleasing our collective sweet tooth.
Companies like Rowntree’s of York had been making eating chocolate from the mid-19th century but by the 1900s chocolate and sweets were a common festive purchase.
Whilst they are now often used as stocking fillers and cost just a few pounds, selection boxes began as expensive and elaborate gifts for the whole family combining chocolate bars with teapots, cut-glass vases and cutlery.
Christmas clubs were set up so that less well-off families could pay for their selection boxes in instalments, a trend that continued until the pre-War years, by which time children’s toys and games were increasingly included.
Once the country had emerged from post-War austerity with the ending of rationing, confectioners cashed in on the nation’s collective sweet tooth by producing the selection boxes that remain a staple in Santa’s sack.
Out went the tea caddies and tableware, and in came a rich choice of chocolate bars packaged in boxes that featured board games (often with hexagonal spinners requiring the insertion of a matchstick) and cut-out-and-keep festive scenes.
Boxes became increasingly rare during the 1970s, when manufacturers introduced stocking-shaped packaging and more prosaic cellophane-wrapped selection packs, a trend which has been reversed in recent times.
This Christmas children (and adults) will eagerly delve into boxes of chocolate bars in just the same way that Victorians did.
Oh, and the answer is ‘no’ - it’s never too early to open a selection box.