You put them on your tree every year, but have you ever wondered – why? Why do we hang glass balls on a tree – it’s really kind of strange if you think about it. Yet we do it all around the world, year after year, after year. I’m often fascinated with how things became globally popular before we had this thing called the Internet, TV, or even radio. It wasn’t until this Fall when I did a road trip learning about made in Germany products that I fully understood just how much Germany did have to do with Christmas traditions!
Lauscha Germany Started with Fruit Ornaments
It started in Lauscha Germany in Thuringia in the mid 1800’s. During Christmas people in Thuringia hung fruit and nuts on their trees for decoration as a ‘celebration of nature’. However, in the 1800’s money was tight and it was considered pretty wasteful to hang food that you could/should be eating on your tree. They needed a substitute.
Since Lauscha was the epicenter of glass making, thanks to it’s natural environment with an abundance of wood and sand (the two main ingredients for glass blowing), Hans Greiner decided to make glass versions of the fruit and nuts and hang that on the tree instead, leaving all the real food available to eat.
Royalty Were the Influencers of Old
They might not have had social media and celebrities back then, but the closest thing to it was royalty. A picture of Queen Victoria’s Christmas tree, complete with lights and glass ornaments from her husband Prince Albert’s native Germany was published in a London newspaper.
The glass German Christmas ornaments suddenly were all the rage. Lauscha began exporting its products throughout Europe, and they became a fixture on trees for the holidays around Europe.
How Christmas Ornaments made it onto American Trees
In the 1880s, American F. W. Woolworth discovered Lauscha’s ornaments during a visit to Germany and decided to bring them to Americans. He made a fortune by importing the glass German Christmas ornaments to the United States and selling them at Woolworths.
And that my friends is how something goes viral in the 19th century. And it’s also probably why you have glass Christmas ornaments hanging from your tree right now.
Make Your Own German Christmas Ornaments
While I was in Germany I stopped and visited the famous village of Lauscha which has risen once again to the glass blowing capital of Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. At Farbglashütte Lauscha (opened in 1853), one of the many glass factories in the area. I got a first hand look at modern day glass blowing and making. I was surprised to find out that it wasn’t very ‘modern’ since they still are doing everything by hand with a small team of glass makers and apprentices. It was fascinating to watch. The day I visited a team of 4 young men were making drinking glasses out of a mold, but the process was still extremely manual and delicate. It takes 2 days to make a glass out of sand, soda, potash lime, and heat.
I learned how to tell the difference between hand blown glass and manufactured Christmas ornaments. Manufactured ornaments have larger openings at the top as opposed to hand blown ones. I was even able to make my own in the workshop, with a little help from a professional. I chose the colored beads, she heated the glass, and I delicately blew and formed the glass ball.
As I walked around the Christmas showroom waiting for my creation to cool, I was reminded of my childhood Christmases at my Grandma Ott’s home. I had never thought of the ornaments on her tree to be German, but as I looked at the designs in the showroom, I realized these were all designs she used to have on her tree in Nebraska. It was a fun trip down memory lane.
As you trim your tree this year now you can wow your friends and family with a fun story to tell about how German Christmas ornaments went viral around the world 200 years ago before Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter.
How You Can Recreate This Trip
Glass Blowing: Farbglashütte Lauscha has a glass showroom at their factory in Lauscha and they also have a dedicated Christmas ornament showroom. You can tour the factory at specific times during the day and it’s possible to do workshops on glassblowing there as I did (mine was an abbreviated workshop). Farbglashütte Lauscha Website
Lodging: Thüringer Hotel Schieferhof was a cute boutique hotel with a flare for design and art. They also had a phenomenal restaurant on the lobby level of the hotel, with one of the best meals I had in all of Germany. The rooms were big and it was perfectly situated for touring around the Lauscha area and for hiking!
I was a guest of Germany Tourism during my time in Germany, however all of the opinions on this blog are my own.
Also note that the origin story of Christmas ornaments is much disputed, however this is the story I was told in Germany. And after researching it further on my own, it’s the one that seems to be the most revered.
By DAD December 5, 2015 - 11:41 am
The Christmas season is a great time to visit Germany. In 1956 Christmas in Germany was sort of a lonely time as it was the first Christmas from family. The Christmas festivities and decorations were the best and most sincere that I have ever seen since. Oh, yes we did not have the internet or even a phone call home then.
Merry Christmas everyone!
By Sudheer Jaiswar December 9, 2015 - 9:31 am
An awesome post which has disclosed why we hang glass balls on Christmas tree and how the Chirstmas Ornaments went viral. I really liked the information and way of writing this blog. Impressive, Good job.
By Claus Gurumeta December 12, 2015 - 7:21 pm
Great info! I knew Christmas trees as we know them originated from Germany, but never even thought of why we would use the glass baubles to decorate them!
When my mom was growing up (in Canada, but with German parents), they would put real candles on the tree instead of lights – another German tradition. They could only light them for short periods at a time of course, as it’s a fire hazard!
By Sherry December 12, 2015 - 9:05 pm
Funny – someone just today asked me if I knew the origin of candles on trees and I told them no – it sounded like a horrible idea! Looks like next year I”ll have to take on that story! Happy Holiday Claus!
By Izy Berry December 16, 2015 - 4:12 pm
This is incredible how they do it