Christmas Trivia: Tree Ornaments

What do you hang on your Christmas tree? For as long as I lived with my parents, all the decorations on the tree were handmade by Mommy. These lovely felt decorations were the results of a sewing group she was part of while we lived in Mexico. She added a few every year, including the Christmas tree skirt and the stockings. We had a few glass baubles but the majority of the decorations were the stuffed felt items plus the lights and a few candy canes. Our tree was always artificial – except for one year – and fully loaded.

Things got complicated around the Christmas tree after I got married and incorporated German tradition in the festivities, which included straw stars, apples, small wooden ornaments and glass ornaments. The decorations were placed sparingly on the tree, and everything finished off with the candles on Christmas Eve. The electrical lights on the tree were an abomination my mother and father-in-law never subscribed to, like any good self-respecting Black Forest family!

Champagne and the ornaments ©MT Herzog

Imagine then, the clash of cultures when it came to decorating the tree. I found the German version too bare, whereas my Filipino-American version was judged to be a tad overloaded. Add that to the fact that we lived in India for 12 years and amassed several more boxes of decorations to be added to the tree, and we soon found ourselves looking for more space… if they didn’t fit on the tree anymore then they found their way elsewhere around the house.

Looking into the history of the Christmas ornaments, however, I discovered that once again the roots of the tradition are traced back to Germany – specifically Lauscha, Germany (Thuringia). It was Hans Greiner (1550 – 1609) who created the first decorations out of glass and tin, fashioning strings of glass beads and cutting out tin figures small enough to be hung on the trees. This then evolved into an entire industry for artisans who elevated the craft to an art form.

It was the skilled artisans who started mixing silver nitrate with the glass to give the ornaments their special shine. By the 1850s, Justus von Liebig had perfected the craft and added the cap and hook that makes it easier to adorn the tree. (source: Wikipedia) It didn’t take long for the concept of the tree ornaments to spread, marking Lauscha’s spot on the map with its unforgettable contribution for Christmas.

Queen Charlotte first introduced the Christmas tree in England in the 1800s but it was Queen Victoria who went all out with the decorations in order to honor her husband’s German heritage. The Lauscha Christmas ornaments crossed the Atlantic and made their first appearance in New York courtesy of F.W. Woolworth in 1880. The US production of the Christmas ornaments had actually began a decade earlier with another New Yorker, William DeMuth. Sadly, the Lauscha factories were shut down after World War II. “As of 2009, there are still about 20 small glass-blowing firms active in Lauscha that produce baubles. One of the producers is Krebs Glas Lauscha, part of the Krebs family which is now one of the largest producers of glass ornaments worldwide.”(Wikipedia).

Last year I decorated the house entirely in a Filipiniana theme since the family converged in Manila. I knew then that it would be the very last Christmas I would spend with Daddy, and suspected deep in my heart that Mommy might not make it to Christmas 2016 either. Mommy had insisted on capiz decorations for the tree and I also found a small nativity set made out of bamboo to add to the look. I was not prepared to decorate this year but my parents always loved Christmas and Daddy’s eyes twinkled with joy each time he saw the tree lit up, even when he could no longer decorate it himself.

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