The tradition of the modern Christmas tree began in Germany in the 16th century. At that time, Christian Germans would bring trees decorated with candles into their houses as a way to celebrate Christmas. However, manufactured Christmas tree ornaments, like glass ornaments, did not come about until the 19th century, and have since evolved into the Christmas tree decorations we know today.
The first Christmas tree ornaments were generally apples and nuts. Later on, Germans began adding other fruits to their trees’ decorations, and baked goods like gingerbread cookies in the shape of hearts, stars, bells, fruits and angels began to adorn German Christmas trees. Paper garlands and small pieces of foil also started to become popular. Glass Christmas tree ornaments were first produced in Lauscha, Germany, a town renowned for its glass industry. Glass blowers in Lauscha started with what are now traditional Christmas balls, and soon branched out to include the shapes of fruits.
The Christmas balls could be plain in color or they could be decorated with delicate materials such as lace and fine wire bent into intricate designs.
They also began to make other shapes as well, including many of the shapes that were originally traditional cookie ornaments like stars, angels and bells. They also made molds of children, animals and saints. The ornament trade in Lauscha exploded, with nearly everyone in the town involved, and spread throughout Germany in the latter half of the 19th century.
Germany’s ornaments became popular in England due to Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. Prince Albert was German and brought his Christmas traditions to England, including decorated Christmas trees. Because Queen Victoria was extremely popular with her subjects, a picture of her, with Prince Albert, appearing next to a decorated tree made the Christmas tree fashionable across England and in the eastern U.S.
In 1870, William DeMuth began producing glass ornaments in the U.S. Christmas balls and other Christmas tree decorations became very popular soon after, when F.W. Woolworth began selling commercially produced, inexpensive decorations that were imported from Germany. By 1910, Woolworth’s had become a national chain with over a thousand stores selling Christmas ornaments. However, WWI disrupted regular commerce and producers were forced to find cheaper means of manufacturing their ornaments. This was the dawn of the plastic Christmas tree ornament. The new technology allowed for the production of decorations in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
The Hallmark Company first launched its Keepsake ornament program in 1973, which were originally either glass balls or yarn figures, but today include decorations made of china, porcelain, and even wood and acrylic, in a wide variety of meaningful shapes. With today’s technology, Christmas tree decorations come in a large array of shapes, sizes, figures and colors, and are made of many, many different materials. They are available from a variety of different retail outlets, often for two to three months before Christmas.