Decorating trees during what has become known as the Christmas season began in Germany during the early 1800‘s. Nuts coated with sugar, apples and other pieces of candied fruit hung among the evergreen branches were the first German Christmas ornaments. Ornaments cut from gingerbread dough and marzipan also became popular. Later eaten by the children, these expensive treats were out of reach for all but the wealthy.
By the mid 1800‘s the glass-blowers of Lauscha began to produce hand-blown glass ornaments to mimic the fruits and nuts the wealthy were hanging on their trees. Long known for the quality of their glassware (medicine bottles, barometers, marbles and eye glasses) the glass-blowers expanded the ornament business into a cottage industry with the men doing the actual blowing of the ornaments, the women doing the silvering of the insides (early in the industry with either lead or mercury, then later on with a mixture of sugar-water and silver nitrate) and the children painting the outside. Thus began the tradition of the beautiful glass ornaments that Germany became famous for.
Lovely glass spheres aren’t the only German Christmas ornaments that valued by collectors. Dresden began producing gaily painted, embossed paper ornaments. Decorations of pressed tin with brightly lithographed pictures were being produced in other parts of Germany and thin strips of metal called “angel hair” began to show up on trees around the country. This “angel hair” is what we now lovingly call “icicles”. Ornaments were also made out of wood, walnut shells, pewter and wax.
Queen Victoria’s Prince Albert (a native of Germany) introduced the glass ornaments to England and by the 1870‘s German Christmas ornaments were being exported to Great Britain. Ten years later, F.W. Woolworth (the American Five & Dime giant) discovered the lovely glass ornaments during a trip to Europe and began importing them to the United States.
Though the popularity of the ornaments declined during both WWI and WWII, Germany still imports some ornaments to the United States every year. German Christmas ornaments, especially the older ones are still valued by collectors. The most popular German Christmas ornament shapes are Santa and Mrs. Claus (or St. Nick), Mary and Joseph, rocking horses, soldiers, pinecones and, of course, the German Christmas Pickle.
Of the many contributions that the German culture has made to modern society, perhaps one of the most beautiful and enduring is that of the Christmas tree and decorations.
– Sherry Law