An excess of Christmas decorations
I was at two auctions over the past few days, and once again my mind was overwhelmed by the excess. Not at all the everyday stuff we buy but at the bloated tables of Christmas decorations.
Both places were stuffed with lighted Santas, small and large fake trees, lights, ornaments, Nativity scenes, bulbs, more ornaments, figurines, fake wreaths, and much much more. They were layered on tables, standing on shelves, stacked into cardboard boxes or still safely nestled in their original boxes. They had likely been stored away in basements, under beds, in closets or in their own nooks in a room in the houses.
I have my own stash, hidden away in paper handbags in a closet on my third floor. I take them out each year when I’m in a festive mood. Sometimes, I don’t take them out at all and keep my Christmas decorating to a minimal – as I’m doing this year, going only with a wreath, and pots of red and white poinsettias. I used to do paperwhites, but their smell was too pungent.
I still have a tendency, though, to buy ornaments – I love unusual ones that speak to me – for the next time I put up a real scented tree that infuses the air in my living room.
I’m sure some pour souls had spent extravagantly for the Christmas decorations at auction, and family members took what they wanted and instructed the auction house to sell the rest at any price. Since these are absolute auctions – where nothing has a minimum price and everything sells – the decorations went for very little money. My mind does a flip at the amount of cash we could save if we decorated simply.
After going to auctions for so long, I’m careful about what I buy and how much I pay for it. Now, when I see a cute little Christmas item, I just remember the gluttony from the auction tables. I was at an antiques mart recently and saw a handmade teacup and saucer ornament that would’ve looked fantastic on my tree. After spending too much time choosing one of the three designs, I stilled myself and walked away without buying – even though the $3.25 price was reasonable.
We’ve made decorating a very expensive affair. It hasn’t always been that way and doesn’t have to be. Decorating for Christmas started out plain and simple, although there seemed to be some question as to when. According to wikipedia, Nativity scenes date back to 10th-century Rome, while 15th-century Londoners put up such greeneries as ivy and holly in their homes, and 19th-century Germans were said to have produced the first decorations.
The website theholidayspot.com took it back to a monk in 7th-century Germany who presented a tree for people to decorate, followed in the 16th century by ornaments for the trees. In a city in France in the 17th century, the trees found their way inside homes and the decorations expanded. British homes picked up the tradition, with Americans opting in in the 19th century.
All the sites seemed to agree, though, that the Germans were the first to mass-produce ornaments, probably around the mid-19th century. Glass companies in the village of Lauscha began making ornaments in the shapes of fruits, nuts, hearts and stars, followed by human and animal figures, according to the website ornamentshop.com. In the United States, F.W. Woolworth started exporting German ornaments around the 1880s and 1890s, and they became very popular.
In other parts of Germany, manufacturers made ornaments out of pressed paper and tin, and tinsels were debuting. During the 20th century, just before World War II, Corning Glass Works of New York began manufacturing glass ornaments after re-configuring a machine that had originally produced light bulbs.
None of the ornaments being sold at auction recently were vintage, although I have come across some before. They were snapped up quickly and at premium prices.
I’ve never been interested in buying vintage ornaments (but I may now be on the lookout for German or Corning pieces). I have bought Christmas postcards and small single cards resembling calling cards that appeared to be part of a collection. I also came across some humorous adaptations of cards with not-so-joyous messages in a 1945 issue of Look magazine.
I’ll still continue to pick up an ornament here or there that catches my fancy, but gone are the days of wholesale purchases.
What about you? Do you still buy new ornaments each year for your tree?