Oh Christmas Tree: German World War I Christmas Ornaments

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Did you know that until the First World War almost all glass Christmas tree ornaments were made in Germany? Neither did we, though it makes sense since German was the originator of the tradition of having a tree to celebrate the holiday. 

During the 19th century, with the immigrant diaspora, Christmas trees were found wherever a Germanic community settled, but the big push that got Christmas trees into British households was Queen Victoria. Victoria married a German prince, Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who also happened to be her first cousin. In 1840, Victoria put a Christmas tree in their royal residence as a present for Albert.

At the time, Victoria and her husband were considered the height of fashion and glamour; they were both young, madly in love, and Victoria was the first female monarch since Elizabeth I. Anything they did was almost immediately imitated, and Christmas trees were no different. By the mid 19th century, many English households had a tree and the tradition had become firmly entrenched in the idea of “English Christmas”.

This brings us to the First World War. German trees usually included glass ornaments, and in fact German glass factories dominated the international market for Christmas balls. After the outbreak of the war, anti-German sentiment and trade restrictions caused a huge drop in the market, but German industry was still manufacturing Christmas ornaments.

To tap into the patriotic market, German factories began to make ornaments that illustrated the latest in German military technology. If you wanted to decorate your tree, and show your support of the German war effort you could now buy a blown glass zeppelin, observation balloon, or later even a tank for your tree. As with the rest of the German souvenir industry, the manufacture of Christmas tree ornaments dropped off after 1916, when material shortages curtailed most civilian activities.

This will be our last blog post until the New Year, and I’d like to take a moment to thank all our readers for a great year! Thank you for following, for commenting, and for supporting what the Centre does. Happy Holidays!

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