As we know, Christmas trees pre-date the holiday of Christmas. (Well, you would know that if you had read last week’s blog.) But what about the ornaments we decorate them with or the other seasonal symbols we love like nutcrackers and all the lights? This week, we’re moving on to part II of our holiday history lesson as we explore all the symbols we use to construct the décor used around the home during the holidays.
Christmas trees weren’t always adorned with the tinsel and twinkling lights we use today. Their German ancestors—sometimes called “Paradise trees”—were most often decorated with simple items. Nuts, apples, berries and candles were used most often, and German immigrants took the practice with them to America during the 18th and 19th centuries. However, it wasn’t until the 1840s when an image was published of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert—her German-born husband—celebrating around a tree that the practice truly took off.
Then, in true capitalist fashion, American entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to sell ornaments for decorating trees and voila! We have the concept of the modern tree ornament. While hand-blown, imported glass ornaments from Germany were originally favored, the Corning Company began making American versions of the glass baubles in the late 30s and was producing more than 300,000 ornaments per day by 1940! Even still, most ornaments were manufactured in Germany until the end of World War II.
Another Christmas symbol with Germanic roots is the nutcracker. That’s right! The Russian composer Tchaikovsky may have made a name for himself with these holiday dolls, but their origin story begins a little farther west. While tools used to crack nuts have been around in many cultures for much longer, no particular style of the tool has been popularized globally like the nutcracker dolls we know today. Other shapes—mostly in the form of regional animals—were popular in different areas from England to India, but it wasn’t until the late 17th century that German woodworkers began carving the little soldiers we think of today.
The first nutcracker soldiers were often given as gifts, but not necessarily as Christmas gifts. According to German folklore, they protected homes from evil spirits and were couriers of goodwill.
In 1892, Tchaikovsky debuted his ballet named for the figurines which, surprisingly, was not an instant success. It wasn’t performed widely in America until the mid-20th century when the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo first performed it in the States. Around the same time, American soldiers in WWII began sending figurines home to family members as holiday gifts, solidifying its new image as a Christmas decoration. The rest, as they say, is history. The nutcracker has been a popular holiday symbol ever since.
Glittering lights of red, green, white and blue are some of the most recognizable symbols of Christmas, and they’re also some of the most recent. Well, at least the ones we have today are. The electric lights we use on our windows, gutters and trees are born out of the tradition of placing candles on Christmas trees—what a beautiful fire hazard! The first electric Christmas tree lights weren’t invented until 1882 when Edward Johnson decorated his own tree with a light string of 80 “dainty glass eggs.”
By 1895, the Edison Electric Company (yes, that Edison, with Johnson as vice president) began selling strands of clear glass Christmas lights commercially. It was under the presidency of Grover Cleveland that the White House Christmas tree was decorated with electric lights—an incident which is often referred to as the birth of the electrically lit tree.
Thanks for keeping up with the J-Tech Construction blog. We publish new content every week. If you’re in the market for the gift of efficient windows this Christmas, we’d love to help out! Call our offices today for expert advice on all your home’s exterior issues. In the meantime, we wish you the happiest of holiday seasons!