Holiday Ornaments around the World

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Among the unusual Christmas decorations are the pickle hidden on the Christmas tree in Germany. It is said that whoever finds the pickle first will have good luck during the coming year.

During the holidays, we use ornaments to brighten up dull winter houses. Many are colorful, glistening orbs of spun glass. Some ornaments are coated with glitter and sequins while others are made of straw. Often, the country of origin dictates what an ornament is made of since our forebears used what was available at the time.

In modern times, homemakers vie with each other to decorate their homes with the fabulous array of tree ornaments and room decorations available in today’s commercial markets. The sale of holiday decorations ranks second to the sale of gifts in seasonal sales with thousands of different designs. Trees are decorated around the world, and the ornaments are often culturally specific. Many cities offer residents the opportunity to view decorated tree exhibits. One of the most famous is the Enchanted Forest of 43 International Trees in Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Since Christmas is a Christian religious holiday, many homes feature a nativity scene prominently. In Italy, the presepe is displayed in churches, town squares and often in houses just as it is in the United States. The nativity scene usually depicts a crib filled with straw cradling the infant Jesus, the figures of Mary and Joseph and barnyard animals. The wise men and shepherds approach from a distance. In Colombia, many houses use the nativity scene as their main decoration and make an elaborate village with rolling hills, streams and fields covered with animals.

The idea of using candles to decorate a tree originated in 17th-century Germany, when candles were attached to the tree using wax or pins. Colorful fairy lights, in all colors of the rainbow, have replaced the dangerous candles and are an integral part of Christmas design. The first tree ornaments were made of paper roses, nuts, sweets, glass beads and hand-sewn ornaments. Hard cookies such as gingerbread were baked into stars, bells hearts and angels; they were then used to decorate the tree. In Lithuania and Sweden, intricate decorations depicting dolls and goats were made of straw. In the United States, cranberry and popcorn garlands were draped around the tree and small gifts were hung on the tree.

Glass-blown ornaments have their origins in Lauscha, Germany, where glassblowers began making ornaments as early as 1847. In the late 1930s, Max Eckhardt, the Corning Company and F.G. Woolworth collaborated to introduce the first American glass ornaments.

Among the unusual Christmas decorations are the pickle hidden on the Christmas tree in Germany. It is said that whoever finds the pickle first will have good luck during the coming year. In the Ukraine, trees are trimmed with spiders and spider webs. According to legend, one year, a family was too poor to decorate their tree. The mother hung a few nuts and fruits, but during the night, the spiders heard the mother’s plea and spun their webs over the tree to decorate it. In the morning sunlight, the webs turned to silver and gold.

From the mass-produced ornaments of China to exclusive designer ornaments, only your imagination limits your selection of Christmas ornaments. Ornaments depict everything from traditional glass baubles, Hello Kitty and Disney character ornaments, to fine crystal plaques. They include hand-crafted felt or crocheted ornaments and your child’s finest paper efforts.

A quick glimpse of the online stores reveals ornaments with a sports theme, personalized ornaments, dated ornaments and even political ornaments in addition to the traditional ones. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, falls on the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, usually between late November and early December.

Hanukkah (Chanukah) celebrates the miracles of the Maccabees’ victory over the Greek army and the single vial of oil that lighted the Menorah for eight days even though the oil was sufficient for only one day. The menorah, the symbolic candelabra with eight candles, is the most significant decoration in Jewish homes during Hanukkah. Although its candles may be any color, they are often blue and white to represent the flag of Israel. During Hanukkah, it is customary to give gifts of money (gelt), and children enjoy playing games with the dreidel, a four-sided spinning top with Hebrew letters on the sides that allude to the holiday’s meaning.

Kwanza originated in 1966 as the first African-American holiday and an alternative to Christmas. The holiday has spread throughout the Pan-African region. Dr. Maulana Karenga, chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, established the celebration to represent values of African culture that contribute to building African-American family, community and culture. Many African-Americans now celebrate both Kwanzaa, December 26 to January, and Christmas. The seven principles of Kwanzaa are represented by crops (fruit, nuts and vegetables), mat, candle holder, corn or maize, gifts, unity cup and the seven candles; ornamental representations and symbols of African culture decorate the home during this period. On December 31, families celebrate with food from various African countries.

Regardless of your traditions, the holiday season is a time for rejoicing and renewing family ties. Happy holidays to all!