Christmas ornaments may have had humble beginnings however this much loved and popular tradition of hanging Christmas ornaments has made people into multi millionairs today!
In the early 1800’s fruit (particularly apples) and nuts were the first Christmas ornaments used to decorate Christmas trees. Soon to follow Christmas ornaments of foil and paper streamers cut and made from the hands of family and friends were added.
Among German families (who popularized the Christmas tree) they made Christmas ornaments out of gingerbread and other hard home-made cookies baked in the shape of fruit, stars, bells, angels and hearts. In other countries such as America, their first lot of Christmas ornament additions were long strands of cranberries or popcorn to circle their trees!
They also added small intricately woven baskets that they nestled in the crooks of boughs. In the UK people started to show off their talents making creative Christmas ornaments from lace, paper and other materials. With all the Christmas ornaments displayed it was often noted that the Christmas trees themselves could be hardly seen!
It was not until the latter part of the 19th century that we saw mass produced Christmas ornaments being developed and sold which started in Germany. Particularly in Lauscha, Germany known for its glass making, they started by replicating fruit, nuts and other food items followed later by the manufacture of hearts, stars and popular shapes that came from the traditional cookie baked ornaments.
Much later the glass blowers created moulds of saints, famous people and animals. The beautiful colored glass ornaments were adopted quickly and became a popular favorite for the Christmas tree. They became so popular that nearly everyone in the town was in some way involved in the creation of Christmas ornaments.
All the ornaments were handmade by people who followed in the glassmaking traditions of generations of their families before them. Each ornament had a touch of individual craftsmanship and became unique and highly prized.
By the late 1800’s they were exported around the world. The famous Mr Woolworth is credited with part of his fortune being made from the importation and sales of German glass Christmas ornaments around the 1880’s to 1890’s when he sold more than $25 million worth of ornaments in his Five and Dime Stores.
The Famous Pickle Ornament!
There is a folk story that says for generations people were hiding a glass ornament (most likely from Lauscha) in the shape of a green pickle. The legend says that German parents started this tradition. The first one to spot the pickle ornament hidden in the Christmas tree got an extra present from St Nicholas at Christmas and were blessed with good luck!
Not far from the famous Christmas ornament glass blowers in Lauscha were the artisans in Dresden who introduced pressed and embossed paper ornaments featuring bright colors. They introduced new Christmas ornament shapes including birds and fish.
From the late 19th century the appearance of pressed tin with brightly colored lithographic surfaces appeared as ornaments. Thin foil strips were soon introduced (tinsel) and the German creators called it “angels’ hair”. Then came an abundance of varying materials including lace, wire and bead work which was often all used together to make one ornament.
After the war when American’s were coming out of the great depression the German ornament trade feared hostilities and so searched for a manufacturer who could make the ornaments in America itself. They got together with the Corning Company in New York who were then manufactures of light bulbs. By 1940 this company was making 300,000 ornaments a day compared to 600 for a skilled German glass blower. These ornaments were lacquered by machine and hand decorated.
Wonderful childhood memories of Christmas often revolve not only around presents but around the Christmas tree and its ornaments and other decorations. It was often a great event to dress in your best clothes and take the family to the big department stores to see the “Big Tree” with hundreds of fascinating ornaments on display.
Highly reflective materials were most popular for ornaments and complexity and variety of ornaments were the driving factors for ornament sales. A popular legend said if you placed a reflective ornament on your tree it would repel an evil spirit trying to enter your home – they would see their reflection, then terrified they would withdraw! Later on electric trains and small villages were placed under the tree and miniature churches, stores and homes were the new ornaments placed on trees.
With the introduction of aluminum trees manufactures made special ornaments they assured us were fire proof and just as safe as the newly produced trees themselves. By the 1970’s there was the occasional popular culture figure, radio serial star or comic book hero, or even an occasional product ornament such as a Swift’s Premium Ham ornament. Then came the personalized ornament which became popular in modern times. Check out OrnamentShop.com a highly popular website for personalized and creative ornaments which are often purchased as a unique and personal Christmas gifts today.