|German Christmas Card, Circa 1910|
Our American tradition of Christmas trees probably had its roots in Germany in the 8th century. St Boniface, the German apostle, brought a fir tree with him when he preached to the common people because he said its triangular outline represented the holy trinity. This was at a time when very few people could read and visual aids like his little tree were a big part of spreading the gospel. Devout Germans took this form as a real manifestation of the trinity and decorated their trees only with candles in the beginning.
By the 15th century glass ornaments crept into view and in Latvia trees were even decorated with roses, associated with the Virgin Mary. It has been documented that in Strasbourg in 1605, on the Rhine bordering with France, someone brought a tree indoors and decorated it with roses made of paper, nuts, candy and of course, candles. The Christmas tree was officially born.
Folks got very crafty after that and carved wood, painted eggshells, added shaped cookies and more candy and and paper decorations. The very wealthy could even add tinsel in 1610. Tinsel was made of pure silver. Wouldn’t I like to find a box of that somewhere at a thrift shop!
|One of the oldest known|
ornaments, from Lauscha
Christmas trees gradually slipped into England and became more ornate, using glass beads and handmade embroidered snowflakes along with other decorations. By the 1800s, the tradition crossed the ocean and landed in America where it has been embraced with a vengeance.
We added edible fruit like apples and strung cranberries and popcorn on our trees. We even stole the idea of putting painted gingerbread cookies baked into Christmas shapes on our trees. Pictures from magazines and newspapers, rare and treasured in many cases, showed up on trees and then little gifts were tied on the branches in homemade baskets and boxes.
Before the late Victorian era, hand made Christmas ornaments were created by each family with perhaps one or two expensive glass pieces. Lauscha, the top glass blowing area in the Black Forest in Germany, saw the possibility of hand blowing ornaments just for Christmas. They were instantly successful. Everyone in Lauscha was absorbed into some facet of the ornament trade and Germany held the market for Christmas ornaments. If you are interested in this part of history, read the novels,"The Glass Blower Trilogy", available on Amazon and for Kindle for more history.
F.W. Woolworth of the five and dime stores, visited Lauscha and saw there was money to be made. He began the importation of German glass ornaments into his stores and by 1890 he was selling 25 million dollars in ornaments in the USA, and that’s in 1900s dollars too.
|A page from a German Christmas ornament catalog, turn of the century|
Queen Victoria loved Christmas and popularized Christmas traditions, and it began to be celebrated with much joy and on a large scale. The Christmas tree crept back to Europe and spread everywhere.
Japan, the Czech Republic and other countries entered the ornament fray but German ornaments are still the most treasured and sought after.
In 1960s America, we took it up a notch with metal trees and white trees and pink trees and trees that were flocked, sprayed with chemical snow and decorated with a single theme such as pink or all turquoise blue. Mid century aluminum trees and the accouterments such as color wheels that go with them are back in fashion in a big way and very expensive and hard to find.
|A color wheel used to add sparkle to your metal tree|
|An original aluminum tree|
Luckily, most pretty vintage ornaments are still very affordable, fairly easy to find and great fun to collect along with all the associated pieces like Elf on the shelf, plastic 50s reindeer and sleighs and all the things we remember from our own American nostalgic history.
|Old plasstic Santa and and very old German house|
Lots more to discover out there if you are interested. For you Mid Century kids here's a great link to aluminum trees. Happy Hunting!