As the time of giving approaches, so too does the time of taking. For years crooks and tricksters have used the dropped guard of festive sentimentality to dupe and swindle unsuspecting victims. Most were simple frauds for a penny or two, but other times they were of a much darker nature.
As far back as 1859, someone placed an advertisement for a steeple chase at Old Trafford, pitting a performing elephant against a goat from Western Australia. Six fences, one mile. Clearly wanting to make the goat's travel worthwhile, people from miles around turned up in droves to view the spectacle, only to be turned away at the entrance.
Leeds Intelligencer - Saturday 31 December 1859© THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Christmas provided the perfect opportunity for eking a few pennies out of more gullible souls. Men would dress as dustbin men to receive generous tips, while others would request payment for sourcing turkeys and geese for dinner (which, of course, never arrived). If you were unlucky enough to have a cunning enemy, you could well wake up on Christmas morning to hundreds of people queueing outside your house for a party you never organised.
You could wake up on Christmas morning to hundreds of people queueing outside your house for a party you never organised
People were talked into handing over payment for boxes of Christmas goods, often filled with nothing more than straw and stones. One "Parisian adventuress", claiming to be delivering a scarf pin for the mistress of the house, duped some 80 servants out of £150 in two days, around £9,000 today.
Edinburgh Evening News - Monday 26 December 1898© THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Other hoaxes were of a more sinister nature. One girl received an unending procession of deliveries to her house, including turkey, wine and groceries, from an unknown sender. Then an undertaker turned up outside her door, followed by a limousine to take her and her mother to the cinema.
Dundee Courier - Tuesday 24 December 1935© THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
So if you're snowed under with Christmas organisation, just be thankful you don't have a queue of undertakers arriving at your door.