Decking the Halls: A Fascinating Journey Through the History of Christmas Decorations

The air is filled with the scent of freshly baked cookies, carolers sing merrily in the streets, and twinkling lights adorn homes. Yes, the holiday season is upon us, and with it comes the magical world of Christmas decorations. These festive adornments have a rich and colorful history, evolving over centuries to become the cherished symbols of the holiday season. In this blog post, we'll embark on a journey through time to explore the history of Christmas decorations.

The Origins of Christmas Decorations

The tradition of decorating homes for Christmas can be traced back to ancient civilizations. The early Romans adorned their homes with evergreen branches during the festival of Saturnalia, a precursor to Christmas. In the 16th century, German Christians are credited with popularizing the Christmas tree as we know it, decorating it with apples and candles.

Roman Saturnalia Christmas Etching by J. R. Weguelin 1884

The Advent of Christmas Ornaments

Christmas tree decorations began to evolve during the 17th century. In Germany, people started adding items like paper roses, apples, and wafers to the tree. However, it was glassblowers from the Lauscha region who introduced the first glass ornaments in the 18th century. These early ornaments were labor-intensive and expensive, making them a luxury only the wealthy could afford.

antique german glass christmas ornaments

The Rise of Tinsel and Garlands

Tinsel, originally made from real silver, became a popular addition to Christmas trees in the 19th century. However, due to its high cost, it was eventually replaced with cheaper alternatives like aluminum. Around the same time, garlands made from paper, popcorn, and cranberries became popular for adding a touch of color and texture to trees.

Electric Lights and the Twinkling Revolution

Before the introduction of electric lights, candles were used to illuminate Christmas trees, a practice that carried considerable fire risk. In the late 19th century, Thomas Edison's invention of the electric light bulb revolutionized Christmas decorations, making trees safer to light. Edward H. Johnson, a colleague of Edison's, is credited with the creation of the first electric Christmas lights in 1882.

antique general electric christmas lights box label with santa holding electric incandescent bulb

The Advent of the Christmas Village and Nativity Scenes

As Christmas traditions spread, so did the types of decorations. The Christmas village, a miniature holiday-themed landscape, became a popular addition to homes during the 19th century. Nativity scenes, depicting the birth of Jesus, also gained popularity, with families carefully arranging figurines and creating intricate dioramas.

vintage 1940s putz house christmas tree village

The Modern Era of Christmas Decorations

The 20th century saw the commercialization of Christmas decorations, with manufacturers producing a wide array of ornaments, lights, and other decorative items. New materials, such as plastic and synthetic garlands, made decorations more affordable and accessible to the general population. Today, inflatable lawn ornaments, LED lights, and elaborate animated displays are a common sight during the holiday season.

 white and silver christmas tree dome globe with ornaments

Christmas decorations have come a long way from their humble beginnings in ancient Rome. They have evolved from simple evergreen branches to the dazzling, diverse ornaments and displays we see today. Whether you prefer a traditional tree adorned with handmade ornaments or an extravagant display of lights and inflatables, the history of Christmas decorations is a testament to the enduring spirit of celebration, creativity, and joy that fills the holiday season. As we continue to deck the halls each year, we are participating in a tradition that has been cherished for centuries and continues to evolve with the times.