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Christmas Ornaments

A Chronological History


Christmas Ornaments History, Facts, and Origins

In the eleventh century, religious plays called "mystery plays" became popular throughout Europe. One of the most prevalent plays was the annual Christmas "Paradise Play" This play told of the Biblical account of Adam and Eve and the partaking of the forbidden fruit. The only prop on the stage was the "Paradise tree", a fir tree adorned with apples, which represented their sin. Later, wafers were added to the tree which stood for Christ's atoning sacrifice. Red and White flowers later adorned many of these trees. Red symbolized knowledge and the White flowers represented innocence. Many credit the common Christmas ornament colors of Red, Green and White to the Paradise Tree.


Christmas Ornaments and Christmas Tree Decorations - A Chronological History

The first account we have of a tree decorated with Christmas ornaments in a home dates from 1605 in Strasbourg, Germany. The use of Christmas ornaments spread in Germany with cookies, bread, nuts and the like serving as decorations. So many sweets decorated the German Christmas tree it was nicknamed the "sugar tree." Small gifts also made their way to the branches of the Christmas tree.

German immigrants brought their Christmas tree decorating habits to America, where the tradition spread.

The Christmas ornaments that caught the public's eye were the glass-blown ornaments hand-crafted in Lauscha, Germany. Besides their visual appeal, their lightweight design may have been equally appealing. With all the Christmas candles and the food, wood and metal ornaments, Christmas trees became rather heavy. The light glass-blown ornaments may have been a welcome replacement for some of the heavier ornaments.

There are several legends behind using tinsel to decorate the Christmas tree. The primary one tells of a woman whose husband had died. She needed to bring up a large family of children herself. She worked hard and was determined to make a happy time for them at Christmas. She prepared a Christmas tree to surprise them on Christmas Day. Unfortunately spiders visited the tree, and crawled from branch to branch, making webs all over it. The Christ Child saw the tree and knew she would be devastated to find this on Christmas morning. He changed the spiders' webs to shining silver.

In the 1860s and 70s, the first commercial Christmas tree ornaments began to emerge. Some of these commercial Christmas ornaments were crafted out of embossed and painted cardboard. These were Dresden ornaments, named for the German city where they were produced. In Germany in the 1600's, Christmas Trees were decorated with colored paper, small toys, food, and sometimes candles.

Later, tinsel, silver wire ornaments, candles and small beads became common. The custom was to have several small trees on tables, one for each family member, with their gifts stacked on the table under the tree.

Electric Christmas tree lights were first used just 3 years after Thomas Edison had his first public demonstration of electric lights in 1879. The early Christmas tree lights were handmade and rather expensive.


Christmas Ornaments in the 1900's

In the 1900's, popular decorations included strings of popcorn, homemade cards, pictures, cotton to look like snow, candy, and eventually glass balls and figurines. Some people used candles, but they often caused devastating fires.

In the 1930's, common Christmas tree decorations included bells, balls, and tinsel, and with a beautiful golden haired angel at the top. Commercial Christmas ornaments took off in America when F.W. Woolworth, of five-and-dime store fame reluctantly began selling German glass ornaments and they sold out in two days. That convinced him and he began his buying trips to Germany. Translucent plastic shapes, honeycomb paper angels, and glow-in-the-dark icicles became popular items.

Not until WWII did an American company succeed in manufacturing Christmas ornaments. Using a machine designed to make lightbulbs, the Corning Glass company was able to produce more than 2,000 Christmas ornaments a minute.

The mid-1960's saw another major change. The world was changing and modernist ideas were everywhere. Silver aluminum artificial trees were so popular that they were imported from America throughout the world. Colored lights placed below the tree made decorations unnecessary.

In the 1970's, America made a return to Victorian nostalgia and the trees had a refreshing new look. Some American companies specialized in making antique replicas, but others found the original makers in Europe to recreate wonderful glass ornaments and real silver tinsels.

Real Christmas trees were popular. However, several manufacturers starting creating artificial trees that looked real. Many homemakers preferred the convenience of a real looking artificial Christmas tree. If your room was big enough, you could have a 14-foot artificial spruce right in your living room-with no dropped needles! The new pine scented sprays claimed to give your artificial Christmas tree that "real tree smell"!

In the 1990's, "theme trees" gain in popularity. For example, popular Christmas ornaments helped complete the decorations for the "Starry Night tree", the "Twilight tree", and even pop culture trees.

In the 2000's, personalized ornaments lead in popularity.

Today, you can find Christmas ornaments in nearly every size, color, and shape imaginable. From handmade ornaments to limited edition and collector's edition Christmas ornaments, thousands of styles exist to decorate your Christmas tree.

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