A Brief History of Holiday Decorations

Holiday decorations. We put them up in our homes with them, stores are filled with them, kids make them in school and the streets are lined with them. But what is their history? Where do they come from? Here are some facts you might find surprising.

Christmas Lights

Everyone knows Thomas Edison’s greatest invention was the light bulb. But did you know he also invented Christmas lights? It’s true (and seems fitting). The story goes that Edward Johnson, vice president of Edison’s company, wanted to decorate his Christmas tree with eighty red, white, and blue bulbs. Edison obliged and, presto, a holiday tradition was born.


They serve as holiday decorations and toys for kids all over the world, but their history is far more complex. During periods of persecution, Jewish men would have to gather in secret to study the Torah. These men kept dreidels close by so that when soldiers passed, they could pull them out and appear as if they were gathered simply to play a game. In that sense, this simple toy is actually responsible for saving many lives.

The Christmas Tree

Germans get credit for popularizing the Christmas tree in the 1500s, but many believe it was St. Boniface, born in 680 A.D., who first made the association of the fir tree with the birth of Christ. Legend has it that he happened upon a human sacrifice that was taking place at the foot of an oak tree. In anger, he felled the tree with an axe. Behind the oak stood a fir tree. Boniface pointed to it and told the pagans to give up their wicked ways and seek salvation in Christ, the bringer of life “ever green.”


These days, ornaments come in all shapes and sizes. You can get Santas, cats, dogs, Star Wars characters and just about any other type of ornament you can imagine. The first ornaments, however, were actually props from religious plays about Adam and Eve— apples hung on the Paradise Tree to represent our first parents’ expulsion from the Garden of Eden. As time went on, other cultures started adding to and expanding on this tradition of hanging things in trees at Christmas time. The Germans put cookies in their Christmas trees, for example, but it wasn’t until F.W. Woolworth reluctantly began selling modern ornaments in his store that the tradition really caught on. He sold them all in just two days. From then on he travelled to Germany every year to buy ornaments and bring them back to the states to sell in his stores.


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