Monday, May 5, 2008

Vintage Christmas Ornaments: An Homage

A Christmas pickle ornamentImage via Wikipedia
In fond remembrance of vintage Christmas ornaments

For those of us who grew up in the sixties, it's not hard to remember shiny gold ornaments with fake “snow” stuck on them from the Christmas before (or maybe even many Christmases before). Then there was the mangled wreath, with its twisted wire boughs and plastic “pine needles,” that had been in the family for at least 10 years. And of course, there was the plastic Christmas tree. (If you were real traditional, your family would sit around it in October and take a picture so it could be developed and  printed on your Christmas cards in time to send out at the beginning of December!) We were in the age of plastics and everything about Christmas in our household reflected it. No wonder I love vintage ornaments so much; it must be a case of sixties Christmas ornament backlash.

Mixed in with all the shiny baubles, we also had a few hand-painted vintage ornaments that looked quite dated to us at the time. I imagine they were thrown out as just so much garbage. So, don't do what we did; if you're lucky enough to have authentic vintage ornaments, hang on to them!

But how do you tell if an ornament is "vintage"? If you're over 50 years old and you remember them from your childhood, that's one clue. But if you're not that old or if you run across what you think might be a vintage ornament and you're not sure, here are some things to look for:
  • Ornaments from years past were smaller than the ornaments you find in stores today.
  • Vintage ornaments were usually made in soft colors.
  • Antique ornaments often have hand-painted details. It's probably vintage if the paint is faded or distressed in areas.
  • Older ornaments were handmade out of blown glass, instead of being machine-made. When you remove the stem from the base of the ornament, if it's hand-blown it will have an uneven edge. (Glass blowers couldn't make clean breaks, no matter how good they were.) Machine-made ornaments will have a smooth and even edge.
  • There are also other more rare and collectible forms of vintage ornaments: cotton batting, Dresden paper, Kugels and vintage plastic from right after WWII. These are worlds onto themselves, which require a little knowledge to identify.
In the days when ornaments meant something

In addition to being pretty to look at, many old ornaments actually had meanings, based on their shapes:
  • Pickles meant good luck.
  • Victorian fruits and vegetables symbolized harvest-time.
  • In addition to being symbols of good fortune and good luck, birds represented biblical messengers that brought God's love to the world.
  • Ornaments with geometric concave indentations, called reflector ornaments, were used during the Victorian era to ward off evil spirits. As such, they were often called “witches eyes.”
  • As it is today in a more stylized form, the fish was an early Christian symbol for Christ.
  • And in the incredibly obvious department, star shapes represented the Star of Bethlehem.
The bottom line is, if you have a vintage ornament of any shape, hold onto it! Even if it's not your style, you can always sell it. Or you might want to keep it in the family for someone who appreciates the vast sense of history that can be contained in such a small piece of glass.