4 crazy Christmas gifts from history (2024)

Gift-giving at Christmas is a relatively new tradition, thanks to the Victorians making it popular in the 1840s. That doesn’t mean people haven’t had plenty of opportunities to take it to extremes. If celebrities gifting each other waterfalls and super yachts seems outlandish, get a load of these Christmas crackers.

1. Dali’s harp

Musical instruments aren't the wildest of Christmas presents but when Surrealist Salvador Dali gets involved all bets are off! Dali was openly a huge fan of the comedic movies by the Marx Brothers. He even described the aptly named mime artist and harpist, Harpo Marx, as one of the 'three great Surrealists', naming Cecil B. Demille and Walt Disney as the other two.

When they met in 1936, it turned out Harpo was also a huge fan of Dali’s work and the two quickly became friends. That Christmas, Salvador sent Harpo a full-size harp, with his own twist of course. It arrived wrapped in cellophane with spoons for tuning knobs, cutlery glued all over the frame and strings made of barbed wire.

Delighted with his gift, Harpo wasted no time sending back a photo of him pretending to play the harp with bandaged fingers. Two months later, Dali travelled to America at Harpo’s behest to sketch him with his harp, and a lobster on his head, naturally.

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2. Queen Victoria’s nudes

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s romantic and risqué gifts to each other are well documented. The raunchy paintings and portraits of a personal nature commissioned by Queen Victoria included works by painters such as William Dyce, for their home Osborne House. Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s ‘Florinda’, depicting an erotic bevvy of semi-clad women, still hangs facing what would have been Victoria and Albert’s writing desks.

Although Victoria was decidedly more au faire about nudity than Albert, he was an enthusiastic recipient of these gifts and even had a statue of himself in the guise of a Greek warrior commissioned for Victoria, which she loved. Albert however found it a little too revealing and recommissioned a more ‘covered’ version for display at Buckingham Palace.

No wonder they had nine children!

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3. The gift of liberty

In 1865, French anti-slavery activist and careful follower of American politics, Edouard de Laboulaye made a proposition to deliver a Christmas gift to America commemorating the centennial of their independence and continued friendship with France. His friend and sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, began bringing Laboulaye’s vision to life in 1870.

In June 1885, the 225-ton statue of the Roman goddess Libertas, standing at 305 feet tall, arrived in New York to await the completion of her pedestal. The statue’s full name is ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’ and was symbolic of the ideas Napoleon III had tried to suppress during his reign in France.

In 1886, assembly began on Bedloe Island starting with Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel’s iron framework. The rich copper brown statue was officially unveiled on 28th October 1886, clutching a tablet inscribed July 4 1776. Now more widely recognised by the blue-green patina which developed over her first 25 years in New York Harbour, The Statue of Liberty remains the largest Christmas gift ever given.

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4. Truce

During Christmas of 1914, five months into the hostilities of World War I, something miraculous happened along the 400 mile stretch of land between France and the North Sea known as the Western Front. While fighting continued in some areas, widespread unofficial Christmas ceasefires broke out between the opposing troops. Amidst one of the most violent conflicts in human history, the artillery fell silent and roughly 100,000 troops from both sides laid down their arms.

In some areas, the ceasefires allowed little more than recovering fallen soldiers. In others, men from both sides sang each other carols and even ventured out of their trenches to chat and exchange small gifts or souvenirs like buttons. There are even accounts of soldiers getting a haircut! Not to mention partaking in the odd game of footie.

Alfred Anderson of the 1st/5th Battalion Black Watch recalled the eeriness of the ceasefires after living with the constant noise of battle. He also commented, ‘The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war.’

One can’t help but wonder how many men who would’ve died that day made it home thanks to those pockets of Christmas peace.

4 crazy Christmas gifts from history (2024)


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