Christmas Ornament History
Dec 7, 2016 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
The holiday season is in full swing, for my hot cocoa addiction and apartment decorating efforts tell me so. As I was putting my little, pretty sparkling additions onto the tree this year I wondered – where did the idea for these ornaments come from? The vintage lover in me decided it was time for a research project. Join me as we learn a bit more about Christmas ornament history. I hope it inspires your holiday preparations!
Now we can’t really talk about the accessories without first talking about the foundation: the tree. Our modern interpretation of a Christmas tree started in Germany during the 15th century. It was such an ingrained tradition that immigrants brought this ritual with them wherever they settled. Christmas trees made their way to North America by the 1700s. These first trees weren’t decorated with ornaments, but rather with a combination of apples, flowers, and beautiful pastries. I personally think that sounds lovely and delicious. For generations ornamentation would continue this way and remained limited to a more organic vibe. I can imagine Martha Stewart calling this a good thing!
Fun fact: Christmas ornaments also go by the nickname “bauble.”
But by the early 1800s a small town in Germany changed the course of Christmas decorating forever. Lauscha, Germany may not sound familiar to you (it sure didn’t to me), but this is a site of great importance for fans of the Christmas season. Within this little town lived a glassblower named Hans Greiner; Hans is credited with making the first baubles for trees. The glass beads and little figures (these were originally made of tin) proved very popular. Not sure why Hans decided one day to make these little treasures, but certainly glad he did.
Demand grew steadily and by the 1850s innovations were already taking shape. Silvering techniques were introduced, giving the pieces a silvery look. By this time the entire nation was rushing to Lauscha to buy the latest styles for their trees. The buzz even reached a young Queen Victoria, who was eager to honor her husband’s heritage. This royal fandom inspired the manufacturing community in Lauscha to export their wares. (Of course it helped that the English aristocracy and public went wild over published drawings of Queen Victoria’s bauble-covered tree.)
The iconic F.W. Woolworth came all the way to Germany to see what all this fuss was about. The quaint, mountain town cast its spell on him as well and Woolworth started to carry genuine Lauscha decorations in his stores across the United States. Rumor has it by the last decade of the 1800s he was selling $25 million worth of ornaments (at nickel and dime pricing no less!). Germany remained the top dog in the industry until the Art Deco era, when Japan and The Czech Republic entered the frame. Following WWII American manufacturing took off and before long nearly every home in America had quite the collection of ornaments to enjoy each year.
Initial bauble designs consisted of connected glass beads, forming a multi-colored garland. The first figures included fruits and nuts.
This year as you carefully place your ornaments – finding the perfect angle for the twinkle lights – think about the moment in Lauscha when those first glass baubles were created. Share your treasured decorating memories in the comments and enjoy the start to this holiday season!