Perhaps nothing expresses the enthusiasm of the holiday season quite like the beautifully trimmed Christmas tree. She’s the diva of decorations, holding court at the center of festive gatherings, and nothing reflects the personality of that Queen of Holiday Decor like the ornaments carefully chosen to adorn her. Whether vintage, color-coordinated, heirloom or natural, Christmas ornaments set the tone and mood for the celebrations of the season and for memories lasting a lifetime.
The annual unveiling of the holiday trimmings is like a welcome-home party for dear friends who’ve been away for a while, an event both celebratory and sentimental. With each ornament’s arrival to the shindig, we’re likely to sigh or exclaim: Hello lovely! You haven’t aged a day since I last saw you … Sparkly as ever! I can’t believe we’ve been together so long. Remember when …? Of course, there are always those few ornaments (I’m thinking of the pipe cleaner reindeer), like a few of our friends, that need a nice, unobtrusive place to hang so they don’t seem so awkward among the more twinkly baubles.
Ornaments in History
According to folklore, the first use of an evergreen associated specifically with Christmas belongs to a seventh-century monk who left England to spread the gospel in Germany. The monk, St. Boniface, used the triangular shape of the mature fir tree to describe the doctrine of the Christian trinity. Around 1500, theologian Martin Luther set up a small fir tree in his home and decorated it with candles in honor of Christ’s birth. By the 1500s, German towns hosted thriving Christmas markets offering everything for the season from food to gifts, including handmade tree ornaments, mostly crafted from materials found in nature. Over centuries, the German people applied artistry to the handcrafting of ornaments made from blown glass, textiles, carved or hand-cut wood, punched tin, and intricately embossed and pressed paper.
German entrepreneurs began to manufacture Christmas ornaments on a larger scale, and as a result Germany went on to capture the world market in ornaments. Most hand-blown glass adornments used for decorations on Christmas trees came exclusively from Germany. The first Christmas trees on record in the United States date from the mid-1800s, when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (terrifically popular monarchs of the day) were shown in a picture standing with their children in front of a decorated evergreen for Christmas. Fashion-conscious and wealthy Americans immediately decorated their own Christmas trees to demonstrate their worldly sense of style. In the 1880s, as the tradition of Christmas tree decorations caught on in the United States, F. W. Woolworth, one of the foremost American mass merchandisers, began importing German glass ornaments. A decade later, Woolworth was reportedly selling $25 million worth of them.
Around the turn of the last century, ornaments became more elaborate and expensive — embellished with silk, wool, chenille, metal threads, or hand-spun glass. Poland, the Czech Republic, Japan and the United States began competing with Germany to dominate the ornament industry. However, the design elements remained what are now referred to as “traditional” until the 1950s, when bright colors, swirls, stripes and teardrop or icicle shapes became popular. By the 1990s, ornaments became more specialized and personalized, celebrating specific life events like weddings, births or anniversaries. Today, there’s sure to be an ornament for every whim — foods, beverages, creatures, hobbies, sports, travel destinations, and even other holidays like Halloween.
The Christmas tree, like every fashion icon, needs a wardrobe update from time to time — whether it’s a few “statement” pieces or a full makeover. To that end, here are a few trends to watch for.
Miniature ornaments on miniature trees are perfect for challenging spaces. Tiny ornaments are sold individually or in sets, in a variety of themes and styles. Mini trees make it easy to decorate smaller spaces or multiple rooms, changing decor according to whim. Spiritual symbols like angels, stars, crosses, churches and nativity characters offer comfort in trying times and serve as reminders of the true origins of Christmas. Vintage ornaments come in many styles, depending on the time period represented — blown glass ornaments with the patina of time; Shiny-Brite ornaments in shades of turquoise, fuchsia and lime green; or baby-doll ornaments dressed as elves, Santas and playful children. Heirloom and collectible ornaments are those curated over a long period of time, often offered annually from one or more manufacturers as limited editions. Christopher Radko and Hallmark are two examples of manufacturers of collectibles. Themed trees can encompass any one or more of the ornament trends. A theme can be as simple as a color scheme to match the decor of a room (silver and gold are particularly popular), or a grouping of ornaments representing sports, dance, marine life, or any other topic that fires the imagination. Mini trees are a great way to feature multiple themes for multiple spaces. Nostalgia is another comforting trend featuring images from childhood like Santa Claus, gingerbread men, snowmen and toys. Old World ornaments are typically the intricate blown glass ornaments long associated with Germany and a few other European countries. Each piece is molded, blown, silvered and elaborately painted in a process that can take weeks. They are infinitely varied and widely copied. Nature-inspired ornaments can feature organic designs using twigs, berries, feathers, shells, or other botanical materials; or whimsical creations inspired by woodland creatures or sea life. Nature’s designs are cozy and soothing, and lend an environmental flair to the season’s decor.
Spruce up your Christmas tree this year with a few new baubles and a little imagination and style. A well-dressed tree is the star of holiday decorations and expresses the magic of the holiday season.