A Quick History of Christmas Ornaments

By Sara Burd, gallery associate 

I love how holiday traditions are expressed through different mediums and showcase art forms from different cultures. I’ve always loved decorating my family’s tree with Scandinavian ornaments passed down through generations. This got me thinking … who started creating ornaments to decorate Christmas trees in the first place?


My curiosity got the best of me so I did some research. According to Culture Trip, Christmas ornaments on trees are thought to have originated in 16th century Germany. Germans decorated their trees with red apples, painted walnuts, and wool. Wealthy families even used delicate glass ornaments or real silver tinsel.

German immigrants eventually brought this practice over to the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, but Americans didn’t really partake in the tradition until the 1840s when the Queen of England was depicted with a decorated tree. High-society Americans decided that if the Queen was doing it, it was good enough for them.

Queen Victoria and her Christmas Tree

Merchants in the States immediately jumped at the commercial opportunity that decorative ornaments provided and started selling millions of dollars worth of imported German glass-blown decorations. Christmas trees have since become a festive medium of expression and tradition for families around the world.