Trying to decide what ornaments you need for the tree? Why not look back at the beginnings of ornaments to discover why we have certain ornaments and give you a starting point for your own ornament collection.
The Christmas tree originated in Germany and there are numerous legends about how it came about. No one knows which is true, if any of them are true, but we do know that those first Christmas trees were decorated with red apples, candles, white candy canes, cookies, dolls and small toys.
For a long time everything used to decorate a tree was made by the family. The first commercial ornaments also originated in Germany in the 1860s. They first made garlands of glass beads inspired by the paper chains families had been making for their trees. They also made some tin figures. Glass ornaments soon followed. Most were shaped like nuts and fruits and all were silver. These were an immediate sensation in Germany and were soon exported to England. Ten years later they were exported to America. The first American made glass ornaments were made by William DeMuth in 1870. In 1880 the first Lauscha glass ornaments were being sold in Utica, New York by Frank W. Woolworth in his “five-cent” store. His business grew and by 1910 he had five-and-dime stores all over the country. Woolworth was the first businessman to give his employees Christmas bonuses and probably did more than any other businessman to commercialize Christmas. By the 1900s the most popular ornaments were red glass balls. During World War I ornaments were no longer imported from Germany and numerous American manufacturers stepped in to fill the void.
There was quite a bit of symbolism associated with the ornaments that were placed on trees. Apples were common because it was tradition to do a play based on the story of Adam and Eve on December 24th. Because apple trees did not have leaves at that time of year, fir trees were used and apples were hung on them. The play ended with a telling of a prophecy that Christ would come to the earth, so the apple was to help remind people of this play.
Other fruit and vegetable shapes symbolized the harvest. Birds represented God’s love and were also a symbol of good fortune. Pickles represented luck. Stars represent the Star of Bethlehem, Reflector ornaments, also referred to as witches eyes, (geometric ornaments with concave indentations, popular during the Victorian era) were put on the tree to ward off evil spirits. Include these items as well as candy canes, white lights, garland, tinsel and candy shaped ornaments and you will have the essential ornaments needed to decorate your Christmas tree just as it was decorated throughout history.