History of the Christmas Ornament

For many people, decorating their home and Christmas trees with ornaments is one of the most enjoyable ways to capture the magic and excitement of the holidays.

Although Christmas trees first appeared in America in the 1700s, the emergence of the modern Christmas tree actually dates back to 15th and 16th century Germany.

Evergreens were used first in church plays at Christmas and were hung with apples to symbolize a Paradise tree. Paradise trees later found their way into homes, where they were adorned with small white wafers, and later, small pastries cut into stars, angels, hearts and flowers.

During the next 200 years, this custom slowly spread throughout Germany and Europe. Decorated trees were brought to America by Hessians – German mercenaries – fighting in the Revolutionary War.

Christmas wasn't widely celebrated in the United States until the 1800s, however, because of the Puritans' influence. As a result, decorated trees did not become widely popular until people saw the ornaments brought to America by families emigrating from Germany and England in the 1840s.

Ornaments became a big hit. F.W. Woolworth of five-and-dime fame had reluctantly stocked his stores with German-made ornaments in 1880. By 1890, he was selling $25 million worth of ornaments at nickel and dime prices.

The ornaments available at that time primarily were German hand-cast lead and hand-blown glass decorations. As time passed, the ornaments became more elaborate – and expensive. Silk and wool thread, chenille and tinsel embellished many of them. Stiff spun glass appeared as angel and butterfly wings; tinsel was used on fancy flower baskets, vases, air balloons and egg zeppelins.

Germany faced virtually no competition until 1925. Then Japan began producing ornaments in large quantities for export to this country. Czechoslovakia also entered the field with many fancy ornaments. By 1935, more then 250 million Christmas tree ornaments were being imported to the United States.

Not until 1939 and the outbreak of World War II did an American company significantly enter the ornament business. Using a machine designed to make light bulbs, Corning engineers produced more than 2,000 ornament balls a minute.

In 1973, when Hallmark introduced six glass ball ornaments and 12 yarn figures as the first collection of Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments, a new tradition of Christmas decorating was started and a new collectible industry was born. When the first line was introduced, they were unique in design, year-dated and available only for a limited time – innovations in the world of ornaments. Since 1973, Hallmark has introduced more than 8,000 different Keepsakes Ornaments and more than 100 ornament series, groups of ornaments that share a specific theme.

The finished Keepsake Ornaments reflect the way styles, materials, formats and technology have expanded since the first ones appeared in Hallmark stores in 1973. Once a collection of decorated glass balls and yarn figures, Keepsake Ornaments now are made in a wide array of wood, acrylic, bone china, porcelain, and handcrafted formats.

But one thing hasn't changed. Their superior craftsmanship and high quality still ensure that Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments will become family heirlooms and cherished collectibles.

Fun Fact

The work of legendary artists and writers like Grandma Moses, Saul Steinberg, Maya Angelou, Andrew Wyeth, Salvador Dali, and Norman Rockwell has appeared on Hallmark cards.