World History of Christmas Ornaments and Decorations

The celebration of Christmas and the New Year are the biggest events for many millions of people of all ages living in different parts of the world. And most of us cannot imagine the celebration of both these events without an evergreen Christmas tree and ornaments.

When were early Christmas ornaments made and where did it happen first?
The tradition of Christmas decorations is a much disputed one.
Historians do not have a united answer on this question at all.

According to history, Germans already had a custom of decorating a Christmas tree with real apples, nuts, golden sugar-twists, wafers, pretzels and colorful paper flowers in the 16th century.
Apples were obligatory objects used to decorate a Christmas tree at that time. An apple symbolized a forbidden fruit of the Old Testament.
Also candles were used as Christmas ornaments. They say that the idea of Christmas candles was created by Martin Luther. However, it is just a myth probably.

The story goes that the first evergreen tree was decorated at Christmas in Riga, Latvia, in 1510.
People who lived in the region of Alsace, Germany, used and decorated a pine tree like a Christmas tree in 1521.

Earliest glass Christmas ornaments

One legend says the first glass Christmas ornaments were made by one German glass-blower called Hans Greiner from Lauscha in Germany in the 16th century.
He did not have any money to buy apples for a Christmas tree and he decided to make glass ornaments which would look like real apples and other fruits.
Then his idea was liked by other people and they began to order the same glass ornaments from that talented glass-blower who began to blow glass ornaments specifically for Christmas trees.
However, many researchers are convinced that the first glass Christmas decorations were really designed and blown by Hans Greiner from Lauscha.
But it happened in 1847, not in 16th century as that legend says.
He was a direct descendant of the first Hans Greiner who was a glass-blower too.

Christmas ornaments in Germany

Germans began to make homemade Christmas decorations in the 17th century.
The materials used to make them include, colored paper, nutshells painted gold, empty eggshells,and glass beads.
A machine for producing tinsel was invented around 1610 in Germany.
And it helped to use tinsel (at that time real silver was used) to make nice Christmas ornaments.
Germany and a bit later Eastern Europe had been manufacturing Christmas ornaments for small parties since the middle of the 17th century.
There were small glass Christmas beads, silver wire ornaments, Christmas tree candles and tinsel.

Christmas ornaments in USA

The tradition of decorating a Christmas tree with glass Christmas ornaments and other Christmas ones was brought by German immigrants and the Hessian soldiers to Northern America in the second part of the 18th century, but the tradition spread more in the middle of 19th century.

Christmas decorations in England

Christmas tree and Christmas decorations first came to Britain with Queen Charlotte, wife of George III.
However, Englishmen were not going to be in a hurry to copy that custom.
They were not fond of the Georgian Kings because they came from Germany.
And so, that tradition was not popular among Britain people at that time.
Anyway, sometime later, Englishmen adopted that German custom and began to decorate a Christmas tree.
Englishmen imported Christmas ornaments from Germany and Eastern Europe where those ornaments had been made.
But most of Christmas ornaments were still of a homemade variety.
Christmas ornaments began manufacture in England in 19th century.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert popularized the new tradition of having a few small Christmas trees on tables, one for every member of the family.
The tradition to have several Christmas trees was the fashion until the 1880s.

Christmas ornaments in Russia

It is to be noted that Russia was one of first countries where they began to produce glass Christmas ornaments. Russian Prince Menshikov founded the manufacture of Christmas tree ornaments in his estate, near the Russian city of Klin in the first part of the 19th century.
His glass-blown factory produced glass Christmas balls, glass beads to decorate Christmas trees.
Those ornaments were never made in large amounts and were mainly bought for the Russian Imperial Court.

Manufacturing Christmas ornaments a mass scale.
Christmas ornaments became more widespread in the second part of the 19th century. Glass masters from Lauscha began to blow glass ornaments.
They used mercury or lead on the inside of ornaments to make them silvery, but later they began using a special compound of sugar water and silver nitrate for getting a similar silvery color for their ornaments.
And then all these glass ornaments were painted by hand. Earliest Christmas tree ornaments were simple glass balls and beads.
Some time later glass-blowers began making different shapes of glass ornaments, animals, birds, fruits, vegetables, Santa figures etc.
Lauscha became the capital of manufacturing glass Christmas ornaments up to the 1890s.
Lauscha’s glass factories exported their glass decorations to England, USA, Russia, France and other Christian countries of the world.
Another large center for production of Christmas ornaments was Dresden, Germany.
Dresden’s ornaments were non glass items. They were made from embossed pressed cardboard and covered with silver or golden paints.
Golden and silver Dresden fishes, animals, angels and Santa figures were very popular among people and sold well.
Another sort of German Christmas tree decoration was made of pressed tin with a colored printed surface.
We now know that sort of ornament under the ‘icicles’ or tinsel names.
Here it must be mentioned about pressed cotton Christmas ornaments that had been manufactured in Germany and Russia since the 1870-80s.
Beaded or wire Christmas ornaments got popular in many countries too.

World War I destroyed the German monopoly of the ornaments’ manufacturing. And Japan had launched its own manufacture of glass decorations in 1925.
Japanese glass Christmas ornaments were cheap, but not so beautiful like German ones.

The Czech Republic also caught the idea in the 1920s. Czech’s Christmas ornaments had been selling in USA very well. There were over 250 million Christmas decorations sold up to 1935.

Max Eckhardt, a USA businessman was a founder of the glass Christmas ornament production in his home country in the late 1930s.

Soviet Russians stopped their manufacture in 1923-24 and then started it again in 1936.
However, that is another story – Why Soviet-Russian Christmas Ornaments are not “Christmas”?!

Gene Grin.

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