With a history steeped in decoration, cultural influence, religion and splendor, Christmas ornaments have, for the last 400 years, brought dazzle, sparkle, family tradition and thoughts of keepsake to a prominent place in many homes.
Since the 1600’s Christmas ornaments have been influenced by various cultures of the world. According to Study.com, today’s Christmas ornaments have roots tying them to Germany where the tradition as we know it of decorating a Christmas tree began.
St. Boniface traveled to Germany in the 7th or 8th century, bringing with him a fir tree to symbolize the Holy Trinity, according to Handmade Xmas. Christian Germans adopted the tree, brought it into their homes and soon thereafter began decorating it.
However, many religions, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, incorporated using green trees, like firs and other pines, during the winter solstice as a way to remind them of warmer seasons ahead and to chase away sickness and bad spirits, according to History.com.
Christmas trees in Germany were first decorated with apples and were called paradise trees to represent the forbidden tree in the Bible.
Lit candles, ribbons, angels, roses, nuts and other fruits and even small handmade gifts were some of the first decorations to join the apple. Lit candles, and now a safer string of lights, are thought to represent twinkling stars.
A glassblower, Hans Greiner, unable to afford apples, is reported to have begun the tradition of glass ornaments, or baubles, in the 1600’s. Glass ornaments have continued to be a traditional Christmas ornament.
The Christmas tree and it’s splendor of decorations arrived in German settled communities in Pennsylvania before 1747, when communal trees were first seen on display, according to History.com. Many early Americans did not accept Christmas trees because of their pagan and other religious roots.
The popularity of Christmas trees in the United States began to grow by the 1890’s after first beginning to be sold commercially in the 1850’s.
Throughout the years handmade ornaments have graced the Christmas tree. In many families, Christmas ornaments, especially handmade ornaments are treasured keepsakes and handed down through the generations.
Flambeau Area Fiber Arts, FAFA, begin in Ladysmith in 1993 and soon after, according to group founder Nancy Wheeler, of Ladysmith, began making Christmas ornaments to share and give. Now FAFA members are spread throughout the regional area, with meeting places in Medford.
For many years FAFA members have held a handmade Christmas ornament exchange. During the summer, members sign up for the exchange. Knowing the number of participants in the exchange allows participants to know how many ornaments to make.
It’s a fun way to connect and share the member’s arts.
Wheeler has been a weaver for 30 years and has been involved in all aspect of the craft, from carding fiber, spinning it, dying it to weaving it. Her true passion lies with weaving.
Wheeler has used a small inkling loom to make Christmas ornaments. The loom is about 36 inches long and about 8 inches wide and fits comfortably on a table or your lap. An inkling loom weaver can make woven pieces that are about two inches wide and several inches long.
Wheeler said she uses a light wire on the edges of her inkle loom woven Christmas ornaments to allow the finished pieces to have a three dimensional curled effect, similar to a ringlet ribbon. Some of Wheeler’s pieces are intricately woven with thread and have delicate symbols of Christmas woven onto them.
FAFA member Janelle Thompson, of Ladysmith, is a painter and fiber artist and has been painting glass ornaments from a very old European glass blowing company for about 30 years. A family tradition with her mother and sisters involved coming together to make all kids of Christmas ornaments and decorations.
Many of these handmade ornaments have become cherished keepsakes for Thompson that she has kept over the years.
Over the years Thompson said she has given many of her hand painted Christmas ornaments to friends and family as gifts. When there’s time, Thompson said she has also sold some. “I have always enjoyed making things for people as Christmas gifts,” said Thompson.
Her most unusual Christmas ornament she’s made was a troika, which she says is a Russian sleigh pulled by three horses as gift for her niece. Many years ago she designed a Nativity scene that she loves to incorporate onto ornaments as well.
FAFA member Jeni Mursau, of Odgensburg, has been weaving since 1997 after being encouraged to try it from coworkers. Her favorite medium is to weave with reed from thorny palm to make baskets and Christmas ornaments. The reed varies in width and comes in one pound coils.
Mursau has been making Christmas ornaments since July 2015 when she began her business Woven Blessings Basketry, LLC. In making her pieces, she most enjoys how relaxing the art is. With no motorize machines or electricity she’s able to use the process for thinking or being creative and can work on her art outside or inside.
As part of the Christmas season, Mursau says she enjoys giving handcrafted ornaments as gifts for her children’s teachers and educators. “I feel very accomplished when gifting them as they will be a keepsake,” said Mursau. She hopes that years from now the recipients will reminisce about when, how and why they received the handcrafted ornament.
The most interesting and unusual Christmas ornament she’s made was a woven tree from Carolina Snowflakes.
Handcrafted Christmas ornaments are a joy to make and give the recipient and maker a keepsake to enjoy each Christmas season.