Sparkling Elegance: A Brief History of the Glass Christmas Ornament
A glass ornament is one of the most beautiful and lasting of all Christmas tree ornaments. But, do you know the history of these ornaments? Most people don’t. Here’s why they became so popular.
In the beginning…
Before Christmas ornaments were a hot commodity, there were homemade versions that parents would give to their kids on Christmas day. For example, German children would have to find a pickle on a Christmas tree – if they did (or whomever was the first one to find it), got a special gift that morning.
As the kids got older, the pickle got smaller and harder to find – what a game!
While Christmas is a relatively “old” holiday, the modern version of Christmas is actually quite new. Commercialization, and ornament sales in particular, didn’t begin until the 1840s.
They were made in a German village named Lauscha, 60 miles north of Neurnberg. The first ornaments were blown and silvered in a workshop that was part of someone’s home. They were made of glass, blown by the men, while the women handled the silvering of them.
It became a family endeavor with even the children helping out during the final stages of painting.
Initially, the people of Lauscha were glass makers, and they had become rather adept at making drinking glasses and windows. And, this process continued until glass makers in a nearby town, Bohemia, came up with a cheaper and better process for creating ornaments and glass beads, which practically put the small shopkeepers of Lauscha out of business.
To save themselves, the glassmakers in Lauscha started honing their glass blowing craft, devising new ways to stay in business – ornaments for Christmas trees was that new way.
The first glass balls were “free hand,” without any type of mold. Over time, however, glassmakers started using molds to improve production and create consistency over every piece.
During World War II, the glassblowers faced a dilemma. Lauscha was 10 miles inside the border of East Germany. And, while production went on, many of the glassblowers that lived there moved to Coburg.
Production continued and there was virtually no competition until 1925 when Japan and Czechoslovakia began developing manufacturing systems that could produce large quantities of ornaments for very little money.
One of the first department store moguls who discovered the glassblowers’ ornaments from Lauscha, F.W. Woolworth, now had a decision to make. Over time, the mass production of ornaments would flood the U.S. to decorate more millions of christmas trees, with 250 million ornaments being imported in the U.S. by 1935.
Today, these wedding Christmas ornaments speak to a time long since forgotten – a day when glass ornaments were made by hand and celebrated the uniqueness of glassblowing.
Fortunately, the old ways of the Lauscha glassblowers haven’t died. Germany still remains a leading glassmaker in the world, with ornaments, especially hand-made ornaments, being one of the most important seasonal exports for towns like Lauscha.
Emily C. Durden works as an event planner. She likes writing about her experiences on the web. Her articles can be found on many lifestyle and entertainment websites.