Decoding the Craft: Unveiling the Making of Old World Christmas Ornaments

Everyone has that one cherished Christmas ornament – the one that captures the essence of the holiday season or holds a special sentimental value. Old World Christmas features a collection of over 1700 spectacular Christmas ornaments. Have you ever wondered how they are made? Today, we dive into the incredible process of crafting glass, mouth blown Christmas ornaments.

Glass Christmas ornaments, believe it or not, are fashioned today much like they were in 1847 when they were first introduced in Lauscha, Germany.

In the late 16th century, long before the advent of glass Christmas ornaments, Lauscha was renowned for its exquisite handcrafted glassworks, ranging from drinkware to beads. Nestled in a wooded landscape, Lauscha had abundant resources for glassmaking, including lumber, fine sand, and local limestone.

At that time, the Christmas tradition in German Europe involved adorning the Tannenbaum (Christmas tree) with nuts, fruits, and tinsel. It was Hans Greiner, one of Lauscha's prominent glassmakers and a direct descendant of the region's earliest artisans, who envisioned transforming this tradition into something more enduring.

Greiner's innovative approach involved mouth-blowing molten glass tubes into molds shaped like nuts and fruits, crafted from clay. Once cooled, these ornaments, known as kugels, were filled with a silver liquid—typically mercury or lead, later replaced by silver nitrate—to impart a silvery sheen.

Fast forward to the present day, and the process remains remarkably similar. Old World Christmas’ glass ornaments are crafted from clear glass cylinders, heated over a flame until soft and pliable. The glassmakers then blows air into the cylinder, expanding it into a mold to create the desired shape.

Creating these molds is an art in itself, starting from an idea and a sketch and then meticulously shaping plaster into a two-part metal mold. To prevent the glass from shattering, the temperature is gradually lowered before the newly formed ornament is annealed in an oven.

The next step involves adding a silvering solution to the ornament's stem and dipping it into warm water to activate the silvering chemicals, creating a mirror-like finish from within. The ornaments are then ready to be hand-painted to accentuate their shapes. Glue is sometimes added to enhance certain areas with glitter for a touch of sparkle.

Once the ornament is complete, an incision is made on the stem, which is then snapped off and replaced with a cap. Voila! The ornament is now ready to adorn all the Christmas trees!

In 1880, glass Christmas ornaments made their way to the United States when a traveling German salesman introduced them to Frank Woolworth, a store owner in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Despite initial skepticism, the ornaments were an instant hit among Americans, leading Woolworth to expand his business internationally.

This year marks Old World Christmas' 45th anniversary and we've achieved remarkable milestones over the years. We have revived traditional blown-glass techniques in ornament-making and rekindling a passion for handmade ornaments among our customers. Today, at Old World Christmas, each ornament, whether it's a delicate bird, a charming dog, or a whimsical cat, is a testament to the time-honored tradition of mouth-blown, hand-painted glass craftsmanship, reminiscent of its origins in 1847 Lauscha.

So, the next time someone wonders about the origins of Christmas ornaments, you can regale them with the rich history of this 173-year-old German tradition. And as you do so, why not share your favorite Christmas ornament in the comments below? Let's keep the spirit of the season alive!

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Written by

Rachael Mitchell

Rachael Mitchell is a freelance writer based in Seattle, Washington, and has over 15 years of writing experience. She’d never be able to pick just one favorite ornament, but narrowed it down to the S’more and Tennis Ball. She always looks forward to s’mores in the summer with friends and family adding gourmet ingredients, and played 4 years of college tennis in the mid-west.

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