For most of us, Christmas just would not be Christmas without a real tree in the living room with lots of bright lights and Christmas ornaments hanging from every branch of it. But where did this tradition of decorating a tree with brightly color ornaments come from in the first place? In order to understand the history of Christmas ornaments, you must first understand the history of the Christmas tree.
The tradition of celebrating the birth of Christ on the 25th of December started around 300 A.D., but decorating a tree with a variety of different items did not start until 600 A.D. in Germany. The fir tree was originally used to honor Jesus birthday because of its triangular shape and was thought to perfectly represent the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These trees were originally hung inside the home upside-down and symbolized the homeowner's faith and belief in Christianity. These trees were completely undecorated, but over time they eventually were turned back around to stand right-side-up and people began decorating them. Among the very first people known to have decorated a Christmas tree is Martin Luther, founder of the Lutheran Church, in the 1500s when he decorated the family Christmas tree with lighted candles to entertain and amaze his children. This trend of decorating the tree with lights took off and by the 1600s people were decorating their Christmas trees with candles, candies, fruits, and other edible ornaments.
Most of the modern day Christmas traditions that we have today originated in Germany. German artisans are responsible for making most of the world's Christmas ornaments, nutcrackers, figurines, and other symbols of the holiday season. Christmas has been celebrated in Germany from the earliest days of the holiday and they are greatly responsible for developing and carrying on the many Christmas traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation. This includes the development of non-edible Christmas ornaments which are still made by the same families today who originally created and designed these ornaments generations ago.
In 1860, glass blown Christmas ornaments were first produced in Lauscha, Germany by a small group of village artisans. Until this time, Christmas trees were still mainly decorated with handmade or edible items, such as cookies, candies, wafers, nuts, popcorn, fruits, pretzels, painted eggs, flowers, paper, and candles. Wax ornaments were then introduced to the German farmers markets to be used as decorations for Christmas trees. It wasn't until the glass mold was invented and delicate glass Christmas ornaments were produced that non-edible, reusable ornaments were used in decorating the Christmas tree. The glass blown ornament industry took off and handmade, family owned Christmas ornament businesses flourished throughout the German countryside.
The traditional methods of German glass ornament making remained largely unchanged throughout World War I and World War II, but during the post-war occupation of Russia in the 1950s, many of the original ornament making families fled Lauschas, which was located in East Germany. These families, including Mueller, Blech, Eichhorn, and others, established themselves in the American occupied region of Neustadt and continued their traditional glass blowing art in that area. Of course, many of the original families remained behind in East Germany, as well as some of the original glass ornament molds that were used to create their unique Christmas ornaments. Over the years, these molds had to be smuggled out of East Germany and many were successfully delivered to their original makers in Neustadt.
Today, well after the fall of communism and the walls that separated the German people, the German ornament making industry is as strong as ever. Many of the same original families are still in the ornament making business today using the traditional methods of their forefathers. The worlds largest glass blown Christmas ornament company, Inge-glas, is actually the union of two traditional glassblowing families who merged together to carry on the traditions their families have passed on for generations.
Many other methods of German ornament making come from the Erzebirge Mountain region of southeastern Germany. Hand carved wooden Christmas ornaments have been made by local artisans in this area of Germany for hundreds of years. Handed down from generation to generation, these wooden ornaments, pyramids, nutcrackers, and smokers are still being produced today by the same families that have been hand carving these miniature works of art for centuries. With more than 150 of these family businesses still in existence today, a cooperative of artisans was formed in the town of Seiffen, Germany. The Dregano Cooperative is largely responsible for providing the rest of the world with most of its hand carved Christmas ornaments and decorations.
Without the tradition of German ornament making being handed down through the generations in both glass and wooden Christmas ornaments, Christmas just would not be Christmas today. Luckily, the German people are proud of their traditions and many of the old world methods that have been around for hundreds of years are still in use today. From candles and an upside-down fir tree hanging in the house to electric lights and brightly colored ornaments hanging from the tree, the history and traditions of Christmas have evolved to become the Christmas we all know and love today.