Christmas Ornaments – From Pastries to Glass

For centuries, Christmas ornaments have delighted people of all ages, in countries around the world. It all began in the 16th century when the first Christmas trees were decorated with edible fruits, nuts and pastries. Then Hans Greiner of Lauscha, Germany introduced glass baubles during the late 1500s. He started making glass beads and tin figures to be hung on trees.

These evolved into glass figures made by glassblowers using clay molds. Artisans heated glass, which was attached to the end of a hollow rod. The molten glass was inserted into clay molds, before blowing into the hot glass to expand it to fit the shape of the mold. After it cooled the mold was removed and the ornament was capped with a hook. These original glass baubles were designs based on the traditional ornaments of fruits and nuts.

Other glassblowers in Lauscha began producing ornaments in a wide range of designs and their popularity spread throughout Germany. Much later in the 1840s young Queen Victoria, and her husband, Germany’s Prince Albert, allowed a picture of their Christmas tree to be printed in a London newspaper. It was decorated with glass ornaments, which prompted demand for Lauscha’s products across Europe. In the 1850s the glass ornaments were silvered by swirling a silver nitrate solution inside the finished glass, a technique developed by Justus von Liebig. After the nitrate dried these ornaments were hand-painted with colorful detail.

New Yorker William DeMuth began making the first American-made glass ornaments in 1870. And it was F.W. Woolworth who is credited with bringing Lauscha’s glass ornaments to the United States in the 1880s. By 1910, Woolworth’s had 1,000 stores supplying Christmas ornaments to the entire country.

For me, nostalgic feelings are inspired year after year by the sight of old collectable glass ornaments. And every year I bake gingerbread men, which are hung on the tree. So I guess I’m doing my small part to keep the traditions tied to the original Christmas tree ornaments very much alive.