From Trees to Inflatables: The History of Christmas Decorations

Decorating the home at Christmas is a time-honoured tradition. From hooking wreaths throughout to the finishing touches like the star on the tree, the run-up to the main event brings families together through nostalgia and excitement.

So, how did people from years gone by celebrate Christmas Day? Decorations have evolved throughout the decades, but some elements have demonstrated true staying power.

Let’s travel back in time to discover how our ancestors brought Christmas cheer to their homes.

15th Century: O’Christmas Tree

Nature is something that features in Christmas decorations for most generations. Mistletoe, holly and of course, our beloved Christmas tree; arguably the primary focal point in any home this time of year.

The tradition began in Germany in the 15th century, when Christians would bring trees into their home and adorn them with edibles like fruits and nuts. This tradition travelled to America in the 1800’s, where candles and more elaborate decorations were added.

The Industrial Era saw the blossoming of synthetic trees, as they were better equipped to withstand some harsher climates around the globe.

Early 16th Century: Glass Baubles & Estincelle

Edibles on the tree weren’t enough for the Germans (maybe they were always being eaten!), so they came up with new ways to decorate their trees. Glass baubles. These creations came in the shape of glass figures and even fruits and nuts. It wasn’t until the 1880’s that American retailers picked up on the trend and began importing German glass ornaments into the country, kickstarting the worldwide craze for baubles.

To this day, German-made glass baubles are highly valuable and have become a collector’s item.

Tinsel dates even further back, to 1610. Coming from the French word, estincelle, meaning “spark”, someone in German thought to drape it around fir tree leaves. While tinsel nowadays is an affordable addition, it actually used to be made of real shredded silver! No expense was spared back then! Unfortunately, when it got close to candles, the silver would tarnish and turn black, igniting the switch to aluminium.

1816: Crack the Nut

Nutcracker dolls became a solid Christmas tradition in 1816, though they were actually first born around 300 BC (and have since largely become extinct).

Thanks to the production of novel The Nutcracker and the King of Mice this year, the famous ballet The Nutcracker was released and with it, a new wave of Christmas figurines.

1917: Let There be Light

Always a nation of innovation, people in Germany decided that their Christmas trees were missing! The use of candles on branches as a representation of stars became widespread, as did candleholders for a safer presentation of these flickering flames.

It was actually a teenager by the name of Albert Sadacca that decided to start selling strands of Christmas tree lights to his customers in 1917. They evolved into a teardrop shape in 1950; something we still buy today.

1920’s Onwards: The Christmas Angel & Friends Arise

Over recent decades, the angel and other well-loved Christmas characters came to life as decorations. This sparked the worldwide debate over whether it should be an angel or a star to receive pride of place on the top of the tree.

Reindeer, Santa, gingerbread men and other figurines found a home on trees and surfaces all around the home. More recently, they moved to the front lawn…

Nowadays, more is more when it comes to Christmas decorations. With the release of Christmas films like Home Alone and The Grinch, there’s a definite trend towards extravagant decorations.

You’ll see your favourite festive icons in gardens all across the world, in LED form or as impressive inflatables.