How did decorated Christmas trees make it to the rest of Europe, the US, and the world?
Descriptions of publicly decorated Christmas trees go back to 1747. German settlers in the area that became Pennsylvania brought the tradition with them from the Old Country based on Lutheran traditions. But Lutherans were not the only denomination bringing their heritage with them. Puritans, the settlers who left Europe to escape oppression had their own ideas about what others should and should not do.
“Pagan mockery,” is what William Bradford called all holiday decorations. Scuffs over faith, tradition, and public celebration were clearly not limited to Roman times. The puritans set out to ban celebrations and frivolity around something they considered a somber and sacred time. Massachusetts even enacted a ban on observance of the holiday outside of church attendance, going so far as to fine those who decorated.
During the 1800’s, as transatlantic immigration picked up steam due to the advancement of ocean liners and coal-powered engines, Irish and German populations outnumbered Puritan stalwarts and the laws penalizing celebration and decoration were revoked.
But simply revoking these extreme regulations didn’t immediately result in Santa coming to every hearth and home to sneak presents under the tree and to pack every stocking with goodies (or to drop off a lump of ocean liner coal for each of the “bad” children). Christmas decor required royal intermediation.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were popular royals, in part because their wedlock came from modern values - they fell in love instead of joining homes in the hopes of establishing greater power. They also actively advocated for a new, modern vision for the United Kingdom based in technology and innovation.
Because of this, all eyes were on the royals. When they were sketched in1859 by an artist for the Illustrated London News before a Christmas tree glowing with light and glistening with the sparkle of refined ornamentation, it could not help but become all the rage - across the pond in America, as it did in London.
"Britain’s Queen Victoria was said to be quite taken with the tradition of baubles and brought them from Germany to Europe in the mid to late 1800s.”
In a mere 30 years, by the 1890’s the import market for German designed and manufactured ornaments made of hand-blown glass and other materials reached $25 million.
And those ornaments weren’t all glass. In fact, a full range of materials including formed paper, cotton, wool, glass, crystal, metal and wood have all been used as materials for the crafting of fine and mass-produced holiday decorations. Here are some of the materials that have become a part of the history of Christmas Decor and Ornamentation.