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The History of Christmas Ornaments:  The Golden Angel Sets an Affectionate  Standard for Christmas Ornaments

In the previous two parts of ChristmasOrnaments.com’s look at the history of Christmas ornaments, we visited the storied chapter of the origins of the Christmas tree. (After all, how could we overlook this powerful and towering presence?)

Today, families tend to favor either garland or tinsel to decorate their trees. But tinsel arrived first, inspired in part to provide some shimmer against the trees’ branches in lieu of candles.

Tinsel was created in Nuremberg, Germany in 1610. Early on, the strands were widely referred to as “angel’s hair.”

Ironically, Nuremberg was an epicenter of Christmas creativity, for a craftsman from the same village is credited with the custom of decorating Christmas trees with another tribute to an angel – in this case, a wooden, golden-haired angel.

History of Christmas Ornaments:  Germans embrace golden angels as Christmas ornaments

The story of the “golden angel” has captivated Germans since the 18th century, when the young daughter of a wood craftsman died unexpectedly. Soon after, she appeared to him in a dream, dressed in a white dress with two golden wings – in other words, as an angel.History of Christmas Ornaments - Praying-Angel

The next day, the mournful craftsman carved his daughter’s likeness just as he recalled it from his dream. The Germans who watched him hard at work, carefully sculpting her delicate nose and demure smile, were deeply moved by his determination – and entranced by the beautiful angel. Soon, the craftsman could not keep up with demand for the golden angel, which the town folk perched at the very top of their trees or on top of the branches. Lovely and serene, she set an affectionate standard for Christmas ornaments, for her image conveyed both meaning and a message of family devotion.

The golden angel – and other angels like her – eventually found her way to America, sometimes by way of Germany’s world-famous Christkindlmarkets, where craftsmen eagerly sold products of their trade. America would have to wait several more decades for another German influence to reach her shores: the glittering Christmas ornaments from the glassblowing city of Lauscha, which would transform the fledgling Christmas ornament industry.

Sitting-Angel

In the meantime, Americans were busy finding other ways to decorate their Christmas trees – and other ways to tell their family stories. Learn how they channeled these creative impulses in part four of our series on the history of Christmas ornaments.