What would Christmas be without a tree with Christmas balls and a nativity scene? Today they are part of the tradition and cannot be missing in our homes. The nativity scene is undoubtedly the essential symbol that recalls the most important event in the history of religion: the birth of Jesus. In the same way, even the tree with the Christmas balls has a unique meaning that has come down to us with a strong, centuries-old, mysterious tradition that few people know.
Balls are delicate and magical objects. In this article, we take you to the discovery of their origin. Enjoy the reading!
What are the origins of the Christmas tree?
Setting up a particular tree to celebrate Christmas in homes has ancient origins. We already know that the pre-Christian peoples of the north hung evergreen wreaths. And holly on the doors of their houses, close to the Winter Solstice, to keep evil spirits away. And decorated the homes with fir branches, mistletoe, and holly. In ancient Rome, temples were adorned during the Saturnalia, the celebrations in honor of Saturn during the winter Solstice, with fir trees starting from December 17. The Roman tradition was to use the silver fir. They were considered a symbol of eternal life and closeness to God.
Another custom was also widespread in Rome, the cult of the “Sol Invictus.” During this rite, the priests devoted to it retired to special shrines. And went out at midnight to announce that the Virgin had given birth to the Sun. In Rome, the “Rising Sun” cult was linked to that of the God Mithras. The ancient Romans considered the days before and after the Winter Solstice dedicated to the sun’s rebirth. On this occasion, in addition to decorating temples and houses with silver fir branches. The Romans organized banquets and sacrifices dedicated to Saturn. This tradition is somewhat reminiscent of our way of celebrating Christmas.
Representation of Christmas Balls
The Christmas Tree worldwide
We move from America to discover that the Celts also celebrated the Winter Solstice. By feasting and gathering around the fire. It was the feast of Yule. And also, on this occasion, decorations made with evergreen branches were made by hand to symbolize the struggle. And resistance against the dangers of winter.
It was only in the Christian Middle Ages that whole trees first. And evergreens began to be exhibited in the churchyard or inside churches, or in the village squares, on the occasion of Christmas.
In some cases, especially in northern Europe, hawthorn or cherry trees were used, usually found in houses that bloomed during Christmas. In many villages, wooden pyramids were built instead of real trees, decorated with paper, apples, and candles. A widespread peculiarity, regardless of whether it was real trees or branches, concerns the decorations of these primitive trees. All were decorated with fruit, especially red apples, and later sweets, trinkets, fabric ribbons, and deconsecrated hosts.
A spread custom in Germany was to decorate Christmas trees with gingerbread, apples covered with gold, other sweets, lenses cut out of colored paper, waffles, and gold foil. Another decoration that was already widespread in origin was colored golden walnuts, often replaced with pine cones.
The first Christmas balls: red apples
We can consider red apples the ancestors of Christmas balls. If you have wondered at least once in your life why many trees are decorated with red, bright, and shiny apples, the reason is that apples were initially used to decorate and make the tree shine. The red of the apples contrasted with the green of the tree. It is no coincidence that these two colors are considered the colors of Christmas in the common imagination.
The history of Christmas balls
The reason for choosing red apples is not just a purely aesthetic factor. In this choice, there is also an apparent reference to the Knowledge of Good and Evil tree in the Garden of Eden.
The apple recalls the forbidden fruit, the symbol of the original sin of Adam and Eve. Originally, December 24 was the day of Adam and Eve. In the days preceding this feast, which has now fallen into disuse, special theatrical performances called Mysterious Works or Miraculous Works were staged in the cities and villages.
These shows were intended to communicate religious truths found in the Bible to people who were often illiterate. In particular, one of the miraculous works was the Opera del Paradiso which told the scene of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden of Adam and Eve. The traditional scenography showed an evergreen tree, a symbol of immortality, and red apples hanging from the branches in the center.
The custom of the tree of Paradise
Thus the custom of putting the so-called “tree of Paradise” with many hanging red apples in the courtyards and then in the houses spread. On the one hand, the apples symbolize temptation; on the other hand, the death of sin thanks to the birth of Jesus at Christmas.
Apples are still used today in many countries as Christmas decorations. Indeed, in Poland, for example, the Christmas tree is decorated with apples, candies, chocolates wrapped in colored paper, oranges, and nuts wrapped in tinfoil. South Tyrol’s trees are decorated with natural red apples, bows, sugared, caramelized, and lacquered.
In Wales, the “C, Hennig” is very popular, a decoration displayed in homes or given to friends as a sign of good luck for the new year. This decoration is made with an apple on a tripod made of twigs and skewered with large cloves. Above the petiole is set a boxwood twig decorated with raisins as if they were its fruit.
The modern Christmas balls
Over time, many other ways to decorate the tree have spread. We go from hand-made artisan balls to Christmas lights to decorate the tree and the different environments inside and outside the houses.
The first original and characteristic glass ornaments were born in France in the Northern Vosges. It is in this magical place that Christmas balls as we know them today originate. We are in 1858, in a cold winter so harsh that the harvest of red apples was not good. There were not enough apples for people’s livelihood, much less to decorate the trees. Thus a craftsman in the small village of Goetzenbruck, which housed a factory specializing in the production of watch glass since the 1700s, had a genuinely original idea.
Since the glass was cut into balls that were then blown into a watch glass, the craftsman thought that glass balls could be blown to create sparkling decorations on the town’s Christmas tree. His idea was very successful, and immediately, in Goezenbruck, they began to produce and export them all worldwide.
The production of Christmas balls continued unabated until the 1960s, when plastic decorations began to take hold. In 1999, in the village of Meisenthal, the tradition of blowing Christmas balls was resumed. Still, today, the International Center for the Art of Glass (CIAV) of Meisenthal carries on this ancient art, meeting the support of craftsmen faithful to tradition, artists, and designers who invent new balls and decorations to give life to beautiful trees.
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