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The History of Christmas Ornaments:  Americans Follow Queen Victoria’s Adaptation of Christmas Ornaments

History of Christmas Ornaments - Queen Victoria

As difficult as it might be, try to imagine how long it might take to spread the word of a new invention or uplifting idea without the Internet, via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter.

As the first three parts of ChristmasOrnaments.com’s historical perspective of the history of Christmas ornaments have already shown, the growing popularity of the Christmas tree and golden angel in Germany eventually reached America even without the benefit of the telephone (launched into the communication stratosphere by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876).apple

As Americans pondered how to decorate the Christmas trees that had become so widespread by the early 1800s, they turned to easily accessible and practical items, such as fruit (especially apples), nuts, gingerbread and eventually strings of cranberries and popcorn. They may not have been called “Christmas ornaments,” but they certainly functioned as such, and they were displayed in a careful, minimalistic style. An apple here; a cookie there. The Christmas tree still reigned as the center of attention.

Soon after, Christmas trees became a natural place to “hide” small gifts, usually in hand-sewn pocket envelopes that many proper colonial ladies made to resemble small purses.

The History of Christmas Ornaments:  Queen Victoria elevates Christmas ornaments to an art form

And then, like a crackle of lightning on Christmas day, came an unexpected thunderbolt. Less than 100 years after the colonists waged their battle for freedom from Great Britain, Americans once again turned their gaze “across the pond” for creative inspiration.

In fact, not just Americans but people around the world were transfixed by a picture in the London News that featured Queen Victoria and the royal family standing around their lavishly decorated Christmas tree in 1846. The Christmas-loving monarch displayed so many candles, nuts, paper and candy on her tree that, from a distance, it was difficult to see the branches of her towering Christmas tree.


With that picture, the popular queen made an important statement about Christmas ornaments: it was them, and not the tree, that deserved to be the focal point, drawing people in to reveal a family’s history, interests, hobbies and personal mementos of significance.

Americans watched with great interest as Queen Victoria added to her repertoire year after year. A royal spread in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1860 was particularly helpful, for it featured instructions for making majestic ornaments like a hot-air balloon illuminated by a small “light bulb.” By this time, the queen also favored decorating her tree with a great abundance of lace, beads, tinsel and likenesses of Father Christmas.

Being nothing if not observant, Americans followed the British lead by creating Christmas ornaments in the image of Santa Claus. In fact, as the next part of ChristmasOrnaments.com’s series on the History of Christmas ornaments will reveal, they were just getting started.