A Very Merry Christmas 2013

Posted by on Aug 16, 2013 in Historic Interiors, Journal
Trimming the Christmas Tree, by Louis Lang, 1865

Trimming the Christmas Tree, by Louis Lang, 1865

Since it’s 103º outside right now, it seems like a good time to talk about Christmas, especially since I’ve recently prepared a report on Victorian Christmas decorations for a client with a mid-19th C. house.  The surprising thing about my findings is that many suitable Victorian-style Christmas decoration items are still available for purchase today.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For my client, I looked at ways in which Victorian Americans made and decorated wreaths; used other hanging decorations like garlands, bells and balls; displayed blooming plants; lighted and decorated Christmas trees; and arranged Christmas villages.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert popularized Christmas trees in the mid-19th century, and in the years before the first commercial ornaments were available in the 1870’s, tree ornaments were very simple and usually handmade.  There was a focus on natural materials and greenery gathered by family members in the yard or fields.  These items could be modified with paint, gilding, or gluing and wiring clusters together.  The finished decorations were used on mirrors, light fixtures, doorways, windows, archways, etc.

Many of these same decorated natural materials were also used on Christmas trees, which were often smaller and less full than our specially grown trees today.  Tabletop trees were popular.  Small toys, flags (patriotism was a big Christmas theme), and handmade paper Christmas cut outs called “scraps” were popular decorations.  Just as today, homemade decorations involved a lot of glue, glitter, and tinsel- sparkle is nothing new!

And of course, if the tree was lit, candles were the choice.  Definitely a fire hazard, but the candles were only lighted for special occasions like a party or present unwrapping on Christmas Eve.  No leaving the candles lit while you went off to run errands.   A quick online search turned up vintage candleholders for Christmas trees on Ebay, so you can get a head start on the season if you hurry!

Perhaps the most interesting type of Christmas decoration that I researched was the Christmas village displayed around the base of the tree.  In Germany, these were called “Putz” and they, too, were usually homemade and involved twigs, small stones and branches, shells, moss, paper- and more of that good glue, glitter and tinsel!  Maybe this is how Martha Stewart got her start . . .

Hope this inspires those of you with old houses (or not) to try a vintage Christmas theme this year- and I’d like to be the first to wish you a Very Merry Christmas 2013!