The origins of Christmas decoration

A Christian bishop in Turkey, some 900 years after the event, wrote that his members were “crowning” their doors with decorations and celebrating in a pagan style.

Gregory the Great, a 6th century, took a completely different view. Bede, a monk from England, recorded that English pagan pagans celebrated the beginning of their year on the winter solstice. They called it the “night of the mothers.”

Gregory suggested that instead of banning these celebrations, they should be reinvented. The construction of natural adornments and green boughs was focused instead on churches, using plants that have retained their celebratory significance to this day.

Nature has an important role to play. Midwinter greenery in countries such as the UK is scarce. Mistletoe, ivy, and holly are the only leaves available in winter. Mistletoe was revered for centuries by the druids. Holly and ivy, on the other hand, were celebrated as decorations in English songs from at least the 15th century.

King Henry VIII wrote one that begins, “Green grows the holly” (I’ve modernized it, but the song was never particularly catchy).

The descriptions of medieval European home decorations do not mention greenery because it was so cheap. Aristocratic homes preferred to show off their wealth with their finest tapestries and jewels, as well as gold platters.

Wax candles are another way to show off and also represent religious significance. The decorations of the home were not the focus of descriptions of Christmas celebrations until the 17th century. Instead, the emphasis was on the decor of the individual. The mention of strange costumes, masks, and role-reversing clothing, as well as face-painting, is repeated.

Old and new. Shutterstock/Dan74

In 1558, the English farmer and poet Thomas Tusser wrote a song that emphasized domestic decoration. The song begins: “Get ivy [holly] and hull woman, deck up thine home.”

The following century saw the Christmas celebrations become a topic of heated debate between traditionalists and reformers, with the latter attacking what they viewed as pagan festivities.

Modern traditions: Creating new ones

The Industrial Revolution was responsible for eradicating traditional holidays during the 18th and 19th centuries. Social reformers responded to the crisis by reinventing traditional holidays.

However, the emphasis on decorations remained heavy with women. The British magazine The Lady stated in 1896 that any hostess with “meagre decorations” was a shame to her family.

What would you expect by that date? The song that begins with the famous instruction “Deck the Hall[s] with Boughs of Holly,” published in 1862, might have guided a woman from the middle class.

This song is a great example of how traditions are constantly being recreated throughout history. The new English lyrics were composed to accompany an original 16th-century Welsh melody whose words did not mention holly or decoration. The 1862 lyrics had to be updated almost immediately in order to discourage heavy drinking.

The German tradition of decorating a Christmas tree is still relatively new to Britain and America, but it has been growing in popularity. It was first documented in the Rhineland during the 16th century.

The decorations consisted mainly of candles and small gifts, often sweets and homemade foods. In 1896, the Christmas tree was often accompanied by printed cards with images of mistletoe and holly, as well as seasonal foods and bells. Photos were updated to include robins and, of course, Father Christmas. In the 1890s, electric lighting was introduced, which led to the invention of fairy light.

Lighting up winter. Shutterstock/kryzhov

The Industrial Revolution did not destroy Christmas but rather absorbed it and expanded its scope. The advent of affordable, mass-produced gifts, toys, and decorations transformed Christmas into what we know it today. They also made decorating possible in almost every household, even those living in large cities with little foliage.

Woolworth, an American retail mogul, and entrepreneur, played a key role in the creation and spread of affordable versions of decorations. The decision of F W Woolworth to import a large quantity of glass stars and baubles, which were originally made by German family workshops, helped to popularize this medium.

Paper garlands, decorative Christmas stockings, and painted tin toys followed. TinselTinsel was another idea that originated in Germany. The original TinselTinsel was made of fine, sparkling silver strips, but it was mass-produced in metals cheaper than silver and plastic.

Plastic is a material that has fallen out of favor. We may see more reinventions of Christmas traditions and decorations.

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