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Origin of Christmas Ornaments

January 9th, 2013

Aside from Christmas trees, Christmas ornaments are among our most cherished holiday décor. Ornaments give the tree its exceptional look, which is why we fuss about what color and style to opt for each year, and sometimes even undertake creative projects to give the tree a personal touch. So how did these beloved holiday keepsakes come about?

Christmas Celebration Beginnings


Photo by …love Maegan via flickr. CC BY 2.0

 

Christmas ornaments have been a part of Christmas since the holiday was first established. The holiday has its origins in Europe, and was set on December 25 to coincide with early feasts of harvest or to correspond to the feast of the pagan god, Saturn (Saturnalia festival).

Later, Christmas trees were used in holiday festivities for two possible reasons: to represent the cross of Christ, or to continue the tradition of using evergreens during the Saturnalia festival. Others say the Christmas tree represents the Tree of Knowledge. Some credit its introduction to the Apostle of the Germans, Saint Boniface, who used the triangle-shaped fir tree to symbolize the Holy Trinity and encouraged his fellow Germans to decorate it. Regardless of how this tradition came to be, it can be said that the first Christmas tree is credited to the Germans.

Edible Decorations and Their Development

The German Christmas trees in the early days were decorated with apples, berries, pears, and nuts, which represented renewal and life. These edible decorations were eaten later or fed to the birds. In Saint Boniface’s story, the first trees were decorated with candles and later on, with paper roses to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. By 1605, the first tree adorned with paper roses, lighted candles, and other treats was put up in France, spurring the tradition of decorating Christmas trees indoors.

Contemporary Ornaments

From these early decorations evolved a variety of embellishments: tinsel (at the time made of pure silver) was introduced in 1610. The tradition of making new ornaments spread throughout Europe, and pretty soon glass, paper and lace ornaments, handmade snowflake decorations, and tiny gifts were adorning trees. By the 1800s, the Christmas tree reached America through the Germans and glass ornaments began to be imported.


Photo from Orange County Archives via flickr. CC BY 2.0

 

These developments progressed greatly as holiday celebrations with Christmas trees were promoted by Queen Victoria who used a Christmas tree in the Royal Family Christmas celebration in 1840. By the 1930s, American company Corning Company began manufacturing its own glass ornaments. As different materials were developed, more kinds of decorations were crafted and sold by different countries including tin ornaments and Christmas lights, which have been well-loved ever since for their heavenly appeal.

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