A Festive Ode to the Box of Chocolates; with a swathe of new foods and products battling to become a “new Christmas tradition,” let’s take some time to celebrate a subtle classic.
Oh, how I’ve missed it.
Perhaps the most subtle but well-adored British signal that Christmas is around the corner, is that of a box of chocolates. Boxes, tubs, sleeves, tins, bags, parcels, they come in many forms, but each carries exactly the same message, without even being inherently festive or relevant.
Mince pies and Christmas puddings, heavy with fruit and tipsy on that neglected bottle of brandy that only emerges in late November. These are, of course, our common idea of a traditional festive dessert. They are a divisive kind of treat though, with many modern palates loathing or simply enduring the rich stodginess of these boozy classics. Our Grannies and Granddads might welcome a heavy, steaming bowl of steamed pudding, cooled with a generous moat of chilled pouring cream, or the buttery pastry of a mincemeat pie, giving way to the strong, sweet fruity filling inside to accompany their cup of tea. However, it would appear this is becoming a breath of Christmas past to our modern tastes – the Bing Crosby to our Michael Buble.
Christmas in recent years has seen the rise of dessert bombes, pavlovas, salted caramel creations, things masked as Christmas puddings only to reveal much more enticing insides, even the intriguingly brave chocolate Brussels sprouts. While all of these are sparking glittering excitement on the dinner table, and perhaps pleasing younger taste buds, how long will these stick around for, and are they traditional enough to give us that familiar childhood feeling on the 25th of December?
Other non-traditional creations are also peddling hard to lead the way in becoming the “new Christmas tradition.” The annual John Lewis advert comes to mind, promising tear-jerking Christmas scenarios whenever it finally airs on our tellies. The Starbucks red cup line-up, each year serving up another syrupy, cream-topped flavoured coffee to warm our mouths and fingers as we battle through the inevitable late December shopping. A favourite of my greedy mouth is the “Christmas sandwich” revolution, with shops and cafes everywhere offering up a range of Christmas-dinner-inspired lunches, from the full turkey dinner and trimmings between two slices of bread, or creative seasonal vegetarian options that celebrate Winter produce in handy prismatic packaging. The most recent, and almost shocking in some cases, is of course the alternative advent calendar, providing daily doses of everything from wine and cheese to body lotion.
As a sucker for all things tacky and festive, I’m open to just about anything brands will hurl at us in the name of Christmas. I’m a firm atheist, meaning proper Christmas celebrations are lost on me anyway, I’m in it for the greed and capitalism, baby.
In the face of old classic Christmas instalments and all these modern attempts at annual tradition, I feel we forget about one of the best mainstays of the festive season. The box of chocolates.
You might be thinking, “really??” To that I’d ask you to show me one home, shop or office that doesn’t harbour a box of chocolates at some point from November to New Year. Despite the fact that these containers full of sweet, creamy miniatures are on sale and available all year round, they seem to be a rare purchase as a leaving or thank you gift. Something about Christmas makes many of us feel the need to indulge in our old favourite chocolate treats, and have them open to be shared among friends, family, colleagues and customers.
Balanced on the dividers of office desks, greeting people on their coffee break in staff rooms, proudly placed in the centre of a family home’s coffee table, even handed out by smiling Christmas temp workers at the door of busy shops (like I did once upon a time!) over the final weeks of the year. The sharing of miniatures chocolate treats is a wonderful but almost mindless tradition nowadays, bolstered every time you pick up that reduced price tub of treats, or snaffle a couple from a shared selection. Much more subtle than the giant Easter egg, the garish Halloween candy or the old mince pie, a box of chocolates is a Christmas staple that you probably don’t even think about.
Much akin to opening your first present on that chilly December morning, prying open the lid of that box or tub for the first time is a heart-warming experience. Enjoying the sweet and familiar smell of mixed confections, blinking at the gleaming jewel colours of the foil wrappers, hastily rustling your fingers through your options as you hear the sound of the wrappers sliding against one another, before popping your favourite selection into your mouth to relish in that undeniably great taste.
But how can you choose your favourite?
Could it be Quality Street, the old steadfast of chocolates? Offering that reddish-purple tub of multi-coloured wrappers, encasing everything from old-fashioned toffee pennies to those nutty green triangles, to the acclaimed “purple one.”
Or is it Roses, the lesser-seen Cadbury selection? Full of glittering regal purples, rubies and golds. Containing every kind of caramel, with the usual appearance of nuts, fruity fondants and coffee creams too.
Are you a bit more mainstream, and prefer Celebrations? Mars’ offering, loaded with the bold-flavoured chocolate aisle staples. Miniature chewy Mars bars, nutty Snickers, divisive Bounty bars and the much-loved newbie, the Maltesers Teaser.
Perhaps the classic box of Heroes? Cadbury’s front-row selection of their miniature favourites. Meltingly smooth Dairy Milk chunks and swirly Twirls, leading onto sticky caramels, less popular Eclairs, and the elusive Twisted Crème Eggs.
As an insatiable chocolate monster, I’ll settle for just about anything. I’ll take the cheapest or the poshest you can find, as long as it’s in a big sharing box, tub or bag. We usually sway between Heroes and Celebrations in our house, with most of us favouring the former for its familiar creamy taste in so many different forms.
Whichever you favour, it’s likely you’ll see them or even buy them yourself at some point over the next few weeks before January rolls in. You’ll mutter something about how “you shouldn’t have” or how “naughty” you are (you’re not, it’s a damn chocolate for Pete’s sake), but you’ll love every mouthful you take. You’ll be delighted to get first choice, you’ll shout at your siblings for eating all the best ones and leaving you the rest, and you’ll be grateful for them while you endure that painstakingly long wait for your Christmas dinner to be served.
You might not even miss them when they’re gone. You’ll have enjoyed them while they lasted, and not spare a passing thought for them as we enter the even colder weeks of January, but it’s unlikely that you’d buy them again without a festive purpose. While they’re here, enjoy them. We see them everywhere, we eat them at any hour of the day, and we will assertively defend our opinion of the “best” brands and flavours. Just tell someone you don’t like that Maltesers one from the Celebrations box and watch their reaction, I dare you.
I’m delighted that we’re back in box of chocolates season. Leave your pumpkin spice and toffee apples at the door, miniature chocolates are my jam for the next two months. I’ll even scoff those neglected mini Bounty bars, just because it’s nearly Christmas. It’s tradition after all. A subtle, relatable, and delicious tradition.
So, do you have a favourite?
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