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German Christmas Ornaments

Glass Ornaments and Tinsel

Glaskugeln und Lametta

Besides the tree itself, Germany's contributions to Christmas ornaments include blown glass balls and tinsel.

Christmas Guide > Ornaments > Christmas Pickle Ornament

Blown Glass Tree Ornaments
Germany and Austria have contributed many of the elements that we consider a “natural” part of the Christmas celebration. What would Christmas be without “Silent Night” (Austria) or the Christmas tree (Germany)?

But there are other Christmas items we take for granted that have their origins in German Europe. The next time you decorate the Christmas tree (or take the decorations down!), take a closer look at the ornaments. Those shiny glass balls (Glaskugeln) and tinsel (Lametta) are German inventions.

1847 wurden die ersten Früchte und Nüsse aus Glas [in Lauscha] hergestellt, aus denen sich bald die Weihnachtsbaumkugeln entwickelten. Erst wurden diese mit einer Blei-Legierung verspiegelt, später sorgte Silbernitrat für den weihnachtlichen Glanz. - ZDF

Although the glass balls you use to decorate your tree may have been manufactured in China, Mexico, the USA, or elsewhere, the originals were invented in Germany. In the late 16th century the small German town of Lauscha, then in the Duchy of Sachsen-Coburg, now in the German state of Thuringia (Thüringen), became known for its glass-blowing (Glasbläserei). The Thuringia region had been home to glassmaking as early as the 12th century. Lauscha, located in a river valley, had several elements needed for glass-making: timber (for firing the glass ovens) and sand. (Nearby Jena would later become famous for its optical glass.) Christoph Müller and Hans Greiner set up Lauscha's first glassworks in 1597. Soon other Glashütten (glassworks) were established in the town. Lauscha's Glashütten eventually produced drinking glasses, flasks, glass bowls, glass beads (Glasperlen), and even glass eyes (1835).

Also see our
German Christmas Guide
The Christmas Pickle?

In 1847 Hans Greiner (a descendent of the Hans Greiner who had established Lauscha's first glassworks) began producing glass ornaments (Glasschmuck) in the shape of fruits and nuts. These Glaskugeln were made in a unque hand-blown process combined with molds (formgeblasener Christbaumschmuck). The inside of the ornament was made to look silvery, at first with mercury or lead, then later using a special compound of silver nitrate and sugar water. Greiner's sons and grandsons, Ernst (b. 1847), Otto (b. 1877), Willi (b. 1903), and Kurt (b. 1932), carried on the Christmas ornament tradition. (See the Greiner Web link below.) They were also responsible for another product: glass marbles.

Soon these unique glass Christmas ornaments were being exported to other parts of Europe. By the 1870's, Lauscha was exporting its unique glass ornaments to Britain. Glass ornaments had become popular in 1846 when an illustration of Queen Victoria's Christmas tree was printed in a London paper. The royal tree was decorated with glass ornaments from Prince Albert's native land of Germany.

In the 1880s the American dime-store magnate F. W. Woolworth discovered Lauscha's Glaskugeln during a visit to Germany. He made a fortune by importing the German glass ornaments to the U.S.

After World War II, East Germany turned most of Lauscha's glassworks into state-owned (VEB) concerns. After the Wall came down, most of the firms were reestablished as private companies. Today there are still about 20 small glass-blowing firms active in Lauscha.

The Lauscha glass ornaments are also related to a supposed German legend concerning the “Christmas pickle” or Weihnachtsgurke. See Myth 11: The German Christmas Pickle for more on that topic.

German Tinsel - Lametta
Tinsel (Lametta) was probably invented in Germany in the early 1600s. The precise details about where and by whom are vague, but the original tinsel was made out of real silver with machines that pressed the silver into thin strips. Silver was durable, but it tarnished easily, especially with the smoke from the candles commonly used on Christmas trees in Germany. Later versions were also made out of pewter, a tin alloy.

Das Lametta, the German name for tinsel, is a diminutive form of the Italian word lama, meaning blade.

In the 1920s and '30s, German Eis-Lametta (icicle tinsel) was a popular tree decoration. Today's plastic foil tinsel (Stanniol-Lametta) or aluminum tinsel has none of the charm of the German original.

MORE > German Myth 11 - The Christmas Pickle Ornament

MORE > German Christmas Guide

MORE > German Christmas Facts (Advent Calendar)

On the Web

WEB > Lauscha - Michael's Weihnachten Seite
WEB > Greiner Mai GmbH
WEB > Museum für Glaskunst Lauscha
WEB > Lauscha - Die Glasbläserstadt

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