KSNF/KODE — Each year, you decorate a gorgeous evergreen with lights, Christmas ornaments, ribbon, tinsel, and other items that bring on the holiday spirit. But have you ever stopped to wonder why you have a “baby’s first Christmas” ornament or “our first Christmas” ornament” displayed on your tree? More than likely, the answer is no. You’ve grown up with this tradition, and you hold it dear, but you’re not sure why it exists. Here’s a brief history of Christmas trees and the ornaments they hold.
The Origin of Christmas Trees
Before we can discuss ornaments, we must first address the modern Christmas tree tradition, which is thought to have originated in 16th-century Germany. Small evergreen trees would be decorated with candles, apples, nuts, and berries. In Church plays, they were often referred to as “paradise trees.”
-It wasn’t long before devout Christians began to integrate these trees into their homes during the Christmas season. This tradition became a Christian ritual, and it quickly spread from Germany alone to most of Europe. It took longer to catch on in America where Puritanical religious groups rejected the trees for their historically pagan connotations. Still, small communities of German-born settlers continued to carry this practice into the 1700s and 1800s.
In the 1840s, Americans finally began to adopt the tradition after seeing the favorable Queen Victoria and her family (including German-born Prince Albert) celebrating with a Christmas tree.
At this point, however, Christmas ornaments hadn’t caught on yet.
The Popularization of Christmas Ornaments
Like the Christmas tree, Christmas ornaments originated in Germany. Hans Greiner began to make glass Christmas ornaments called baubles during the 1800s. These were the first manufactured Christmas ornaments, and they were a huge commercial success. As soon as businesses saw how much potential commercial success Christmas ornaments had, a mass marketing campaign began.
In the 1890’s, Woolworth’s Department Store in the U.S. sold more than $25 million in German-imported ornaments made of lead and hand-blown glass each year. Soon, other countries wanted a piece of the pie. Japan and Eastern European countries were mass-producing glass Christmas ornaments to compete with Germany.
In 1973, Hallmark introduced a line of “Keepsake” ornaments that gave Christmas ornaments collectible value. Now, many people will use Christmas ornaments to mark time. For example, you may see ornaments for each year of marriage or a child’s first Christmas.
Today, Christmas ornaments may be woven, blown from glass or plastic, molded from porcelain or metal, or carved from wood or expanded polystyrene. They’re created to last and be used year after year. Most people’s collections contain a combination of commercially produced ornaments and items created by family members.
Today’s Favorite Christmas Ornaments
People collect Christmas ornaments all year long, throughout their entire lives to display at Christmas (and sometimes all year around). Whether you’re on vacation or looking for a baby gift, a Christmas ornament is a unique way to remember an event.
If you’re just starting to collect ornaments for your Christmas tree, you’ll find some great ideas, here, including everything from dazzling mouth-blown glass ornaments to elegant handmade porcelain collectible ornaments.