How Christmas ornaments are made?
We all have a favorite Christmas ornament. You know, that one that just caught your eye and you had to have it. Or, that special ornament that holds so much sentimental value. Whatever the case may be, at some point you’ve probably asked yourself: “What are Christmas ornaments made of?” or, “how are glass christmas ornaments made?” If so, today is your lucky day to find out!
How Are Glass Christmas Ornaments Made?
Interestingly enough, glass Christmas ornaments are made today much in the same way as when they were invented in 1847 in Lauscha, Germany.
Let’s take a trip back in time, shall we?
In the late 16th century, long before glass Christmas ornaments made their debut, Lauscha was famous for their specialty handcrafted glassworks, including: drinkware, flasks, bowls, beads, and glass eyes. Lauscha’s wooded landscape provided ample glass making resources of lumber, fine sand, and local limestone.
At this time, German Europe celebrated Christmas by cutting down the Tannenbaum (Christmas tree), displaying it inside, and decorating it with nuts, fruits and tinsel (that’s right, you can thank German Europe for the traditional Christmas tree and tinsel, too!).
One of Lauscha’s most famous glass makers (and a direct descendant of one of the first glass makers in Lauscha) was Hans Greiner. Greiner decided to go out on a limb and make a more permanent display of the long celebrated German tradition of adorning the Christmas tree with nuts and fruits. By capitalizing on his glass making skills, Greiner would create the sensational Christmas tradition we know and love today.
So, how did he do it?
Molten glass tubes were mouth-blown into nuts and fruit molds made of clay. Once cooled, the kugels (ornaments), were then filled with a silver liquid, typically mercury or lead (later replaced with silver nitrate) to give them a silver appearance.
Fast forward to today, glass ornaments are made by taking a clear, glass cylinder with a long blow-pipe at the end and slowly heating it up over a flame. The glass tube is turned consistently, heating the glass evenly until it is soft enough (when it begins to glow) to expand. Once the entire bubbled end is glowing and hot, it’s time to give it a shape! The glass maker blows into the long tube, air fills the end of the glass bubble and expands it into whatever mold it’s been placed in.
Creating the molds is a process in itself. Molds begin from a sketch, then are formed out of plaster and casted into a two part metal mold.
To keep from shattering the ornament, the glass maker gradually lowers the temperature with a less intense flame. The newly shaped glass is then put into an annealer (an oven for ornaments) to cool down the glass.
The glass maker then pours a silvering solution into the ornament stem and dips the ornament into warm water. Dipping the ornament in the water activates the silvering chemicals and gives the ornament a mirror-like finish from the inside, a nice added touch also performed by Greiner himself in 1847.
Now, for the fun part!
The ornaments are dipped in lacquer for some color, with the mirroring solution shining through the lacquer. From here, the ornaments take on a life of their own and are hand painted to accentuate the ornament’s shape. Glue can be added to spots where the glass maker wants to add glitter for an extra pop of color.
An incision is made on the stem and the stem is snapped off. A cap is secured to the top where the stem was snapped off. From here, the ornament is ready for it’s new owner to add it to their Christmas collection!
Greiner’s idea to turn a long-standing German tradition into a visual treat of hand-blown nut and fruit ornaments would forever change a Christmas tradition celebrated by millions of people across the world today.
Glass Christmas Ornaments Come to the U.S.
The U.S. was first introduced to glass Christmas ornaments in 1880 when a traveling German salesman visited a store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and offered store owner, Frank Woolworth, Lauscha ornaments to sell in his store.
Woolworth hesitantly bought a case of ornaments, believing they would be a flop since they didn’t “do” anything. Contrary to his belief, American’s loved the ornaments and they quickly sold out. Woolworth sold twice as many the following year, and would go on to open an international store in Liverpool, England, with glass Christmas ornaments displayed front and center.
At Old World Christmas, you can be sure that any ornament you find, whether it’s an intricate bird ornament, dog ornament, or cat ornament, is a fine crafted, mouth-blown, hand-painted glass ornament made much in the same way as when they were invented in 1847.
So, next time someone asks you “what are Christmas ornaments made of?” or, “how are Christmas ornaments made?” you can give them the history of this 173 year old German tradition and how we are so lucky to have been introduced to them!
If you’re hungry for more, check out our article about the history of why Christmas trees have ornaments, and let us know what your favorite Christmas ornament is in the comments below!