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Some Christmas Baubles

December 23, 2016
by the gentle author

Each year on Christmas Eve, I bring in the tree at dusk,  fetch the box of old glass decorations from the roof to hang upon its boughs, and set to work, decorating the tree as darkness falls

I do not know when my grandmother bought this glass decoration and I cannot ask her because she died more than twenty years ago. All I can do is hang it on my tree and admire it gleaming amongst the deep green boughs, along with all the others that were once hers, or were bought by my parents, or that I have acquired myself, which together form the collection I bring out each year – accepting that not knowing or no longer remembering their origin is part of their charm.

Although I have many that are more elaborate, I especially admire this golden one for its simplicity of form and I like to think its ridged profile derives from the nineteen thirties when my mother was a child, because my grandmother took the art of Christmas decoration very seriously. She would be standing beech leaves in water laced with glycerine in October, pressing them under the carpet in November and then in December arranging the preserved leaves in copper jugs with teazles sprayed gold and branches of larch, as one of many contrivances that she pursued each year to celebrate the season in fastidious style.

Given the fragility of these glass ornaments, it is extraordinary that this particular decoration has survived, since every year there are a few casualties resulting in silvery shards among the needles under the tree. Recognising that a Christmas tree is a tremendous source of amusement for a cat – making great sport out of knocking the baubles to the ground and kicking them around like footballs – I hang the most cherished decorations upon the higher branches. Yet since it is in the natural course of things that some get broken every year and, as I should not wish to inhibit the curiosity of children wishing to handle them, I always buy a couple more each Christmas to preserve the equilibrium of my collection.

Everlasting baubles are available  - they do not smash, they bounce – but this shatterproof technological advance entirely lacks the poetry of these fragile beauties that can survive for generations as vessels of emotional memory and then be lost in a moment. In widespread recognition of this essential frailty of existence, there has been a welcome revival of glass ornaments in recent years.

They owe their origins to the glassblowers of the Thuringian Forest on the border of Germany and the Czech Republic where, in Lauscha, glass beads, drinking glasses, flasks, bowls and even glass eyes were manufactured since the twelfth century. The town is favoured to lie in a wooded river valley, providing both the sand and timber required for making glass and in 1847 Hans Greiner – a descendant of his namesake Hans Greiner who set up the glassworks in 1597 with Christoph Muller – began producing ornaments by blowing glass into wooden moulds. The inside of these ornaments was at first coloured to appear silvery with mercury or lead and then later by using a compound of silver nitrate and sugar water. In 1863, when a gas supply became available to the town, glass could be blown thinner without bursting and by the eighteen seventies the factory at Lauscha was exporting tree ornaments throughout Europe and America, signing a deal with F.W.Woolworth in the eighteen eighties, after he discovered them on a trip to Germany.

Bauble is a byword for the inconsequential, so I do not quite know why these small glass decorations inspire so much passion in me, keeping their romance even as other illusions have dissolved. Maybe it is because I collect images that resonate personally? As well as Father Christmas and Snowmen, I have the Sun, Moon and Stars, Clocks and even a Demon to create a shining poem about time, mortality and joy upon my Christmas tree. I cannot resist the allure of these exquisite glass sculptures in old-fashioned designs glinting at dusk amongst the dark needles of fir, because they still retain the power to evoke the rich unassailable magic of Christmas for me.

This pierrot dates from the  nineteen eighties.

Three of my grandmother’s decorations. The basket on the left has a piece of florists’ wire that she placed there in the nineteen fifties.

This snowman is one of the oldest of my grandmother’s collection.

Bought in the nineteen eighties, but possibly from a much older mould.

Baubles enhanced with painted stripes and glitter.

The moon, sun and stars were acquired from a shop in Greenwich Avenue on my first visit to New York in 1990, amazingly they survived the journey home intact.

These two from my grandmother’s collection make a fine contrast of colour.

Even Christmas has its dark side, this demon usually hangs at the back of the tree.

It is always going to be nine o’clock on Christmas Eve.

Three new decorations purchased at Columbia Rd recently.

A stash of glittering beauties, stored like rare eggs in cardboard trays.

My first bicycle, that I found under the tree one Christmas and still keep in my attic

24 Responses leave one →
  1. December 23, 2016

    Thanks for the inspiration, GA. I put up my tree after this post.

  2. December 23, 2016

    What beautiful memories! Thanks for all your posts this year.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours, Di

  3. December 23, 2016

    Today I reach out to all the lonely Spitalfields-lifers out there in the ‘universe’ this Christmas. You are not alone as long as we have GA at the helm with the daily input, be happy with that. Personally I like the new year, lets rejoice, its a new beginning, nature will be gently on the move. The sun will start to climb soon, no real warmth yet-though. The blackbirds will be start to sing in early March. Spring really starts for me, with my annual visit to Kew Gardens in early April the young trees outback behind Kew Palace will be in blossom then, they overlook the River Thames. Poet John PS the recent super-moon was ‘super’ 14% bigger !what a light show.

  4. Laurel Emms permalink
    December 23, 2016

    Have you read The Glassblower by Petra Durst-Benning?
    It was one of our book group reads of glass baubles and Lauscha and a story of glass blowing

  5. @rupertbu permalink
    December 23, 2016

    You have an uncanny knack of reviving my memories, and I would imagine this is the case for many of your readers – in this tale the packing box unleashed my memories.

    Christmas Eve was the day we dressed our tree and invariably discovered failed light bulbs, good old Woolies came to the rescue with replacements.

    Meanwhile Mother placed her creatively glycerined twigs in grown-up rooms, my pleasure was derived when she sprayed them, a rather addictive aroma!

    I wish you and all your readers a relaxing Christmas and I have no doubt 2017 will see a push back from the reasonable majority against the alt-right, insh’Allah :-)

  6. James Harris permalink
    December 23, 2016

    My wife and I try to leave decorating the tree as late as we can but the pressure from the children usually makes us relent before Christmas Eve. We made it to the 22nd this year. Only 2 or 3 more years and they will be off doing their own thing for festive celebrations. That will change the excitement levels completely within the house but one small change will be that we return to decorating the tree on Christmas Eve again to brighten our sitting room until 12th night.
    Merry Christmas and a happy and content New Year to all.

  7. Gail Barrell permalink
    December 23, 2016

    Beautiful memories.

  8. Ian Findlay permalink
    December 23, 2016

    Dear Gentle Author, wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I look forward to another year of your magnificent compendium – every day a delight. Ian

  9. December 23, 2016

    A very happy Christmas to you.

  10. December 23, 2016

    Your collection is wondrous. I, too, have inherited the family collection, given to me by my mother some years ago because she knew how much I treasured them. Sadly, this year there has been some sudden bauble-death due to a collapsing tree but most of them have survived. I have the identical green, ovoid bauble to yours, still twirling gently in the breeze. And now you have given me the perfect excuse to go and buy a couple more to replace those who had a shattery demise. Enjoy the tree and a very merry Christmas.

  11. December 23, 2016

    A lovely post. As I looked through this array of photos, the memories tumbled out. Glass ornaments long-gone, but still remembered.
    Merry Christmas, and my heartfelt thanks for the richness and optimism of your daily
    writings. Blessings in the New Year.

  12. Sheila Crowson permalink
    December 23, 2016

    Christmas didn’t loom large until a week or so before the 25th when I was a kid. Oh, the pleasure of playing postmistress, when I opened up my post office set with miniature jars of sweets, jigsaws and, best of all, my Rupert Annual.

  13. December 23, 2016

    Beautiful decorations – the old ones always evoke special emotions.

    Normally our house looks like a fairy grotto – no plastic bits though! Sadly, this Christmas, our rooms are bare of decoration as our son’s funeral was only a few weeks ago. He spent four months in the Royal London in Whitechapel and just one week at home before he died with us beside him. Ours is an old house; I daresay he wasn’t the first person to die in our front room.

    So we have no decorations up, but he died on bonfire night – thus ensuring he departed with spectacular colourful explosions which lit up the sky.

    All of you readers – and you gentle author, treasure Christmas and try – as Dickens character Scrooge said to ” honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year”

  14. December 23, 2016

    By the time we moved to MS USA to buy the brick home of my Dutch husband’s Am. father, the last of my grandmother’s “baubles” a Christmas topper was broken. The Santa Claus tree topper I suppose was brought from Stockholm Sweden by my grandmother’s mother Mathilda, who was 7 years old and full of ideas about life-especially concerning a new home with Christmas around the corner.
    The Santa Clause bauble set upon a tree her Mathilda’s father cut down from the fruit farm he had bought. The old house – an old wooden farm house, big enough to hold four people not five-three adults and two children. The second to the oldest daughter was sent to live with another farmer to care for his children. Mathilda sat at home wondering how Christmas with such a lovely tree would ever bring a family together again. On top of the beautiful tree, her father placed the Santa Claus, and candles on the tree with home made sewn Christmas animals from old dresses and table cloths her mother had in a trunk.
    To my distress knowing the story as I viewed my family’s Christmas Santa Bauble, now in bad shape 1996, on top of our tree, taped at the base, the cat climbed the tree and the bauble was broken.
    Good story to remember how much my grandmother and her family loved Christmas. atk

  15. Helen Breen permalink
    December 23, 2016

    Christmas greetings from Boston,

    GA, what a great piece. As said above, you sure can evoke memories. Mine is of one unassuming ornament that I treasured above all and sought immediately when we “did the tree” when I was a youngster.

    It was small – about 2 ½ inches in circumference, about 1 inch in depth, so rather flat. Silver with a raised red star in the middle. Not sure if I am giving an accurate picture, but I still see it in my mind. Long gone, but not forgotten.

    GA, with every good wish for the New Year and beyond. I look forward to your pieces to start my day in 2017.

  16. Katya permalink
    December 23, 2016

    Gentle Author, what a small world it can be! I’m pretty sure the ornament shop on Greenwich Ave., in Greenwich Village, New York, is the one where I, too, bought the same silver and blue moon ornament, many years ago. The shop is just down the street from The Elephant And Castle restaurant, where you may have also gone, perhaps to remind yourself of home?
    Your post evoked many memories for me of a warm fire on Christmas Eve, before which my siblings and I decorated our tree with the many fragile and sparkling glass ornaments my father had miraculously preserved from his German childhood. In true European fashion, we were even given mugs of eggnog, spiked with minute, child-sized splashes of Kirschwasser, which no doubt furthered our dreams along, now that I think about it…
    May you have a wonderful Christmas and thank you for your inspiring daily posts!

  17. Richard permalink
    December 23, 2016

    lovely post. Many thanks for all the others and a very Merry Christmas.

  18. gkbowood permalink
    December 23, 2016

    We have that same 9 o’clock!
    My Mother loved these glass ornaments and I have several boxes worth. Unfortunately, 6 indoor cats (that’s right- 6 so no judging comments readers!) have prevented me from putting up a tree EVER!! I really miss having a tree and have begun looking at our shaggy Arizona Cypress outside the window with illuminating contemplations!!
    Best of Holiday Happiness to you and Mr P.

  19. December 23, 2016

    Fragile things. How amazing you have preserved them, and loved them for so long. Memories of Christmases past and more to come.

  20. Ruth permalink
    December 23, 2016

    I always enjoy your posts, and this one was no exception. Particularly love your moon & stars bauble! Merry Christmas to you

  21. Sue permalink
    December 23, 2016

    Lovely memories.
    Did you have any of those glass birds with glass fibre tails?
    All of ours are sadly gone.
    Merry Christmas.
    Sue.

  22. December 24, 2016

    Wonderful first bicycle! I “only” have still my beloved Teddy Bear!
    Merry and Peaceful Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  23. Valerie Paynter permalink
    December 26, 2016

    My treasured stock of tree decorations were mostly harvested after my Granny died and I was no longer spending Christmas in Sussex (she did no tree). Harrods had an annual room FULL of cheap and fabulous east European-derived glass shapes and balls in the last half of the 1970′s and Nice Irma’s Floating Carpet had the first of the mosaic mirror glass balls – all handmade with the glass pushed into the clay in diamond formation. So fine. Heals had articulated clowns like puppets…. I now wonder what, if any, of the tree decorations I can still remember from my childhood may have been kept by my mother…. Back in the 1950′s in Canada the candle shaped lights on our tree were fluid-filled and bubbled up when they were on. But it was the painted stripes on clear glass that most captivated my eye and memory. Magic. The photo of stripey balls here are like the ones I bought in John Lewis back in the 1970′s…

    They are treasures mementoes of Christmas’s past and should be kept and handed down to family to bring out every year and I always feel such joy seeing them all over again….year in, year out.

  24. Donna MacArthur permalink
    December 27, 2016

    Hi there, gentle author, preserver of Christmas magic,
    A friend from British Columbia shared your site with me, knowing that I, also a bauble lover, would appreciate it.
    I live in Prince Edward Island, Canada. I have been saving / collecting old Christmas baubles for most of my life. The first ornaments I fell in love with were those of the Christmas trees of my childhood (1950s era). My mum had brought some of her own mother’s treasured ornaments to our Island with her from Nova Scotia, and those which survived the decades of use in our house became mine when I grew up and had a home of my own.
    My collection grew gradually as I sought out more of these fragile treasures in thrift stores and flea markets through my travels in eastern Canada and the New England States. Then, a windfall came my way when a very elderly friend (also a treasure) allowed me to ‘clean out’ her attic, in her small cottage home in Kingsville, Ontario. There were boxes containing some of the oldest baubles I’d ever seen, covered in dust (some had disintegrated with age), which my old friend’s parents had brought to Canada when emigrating from England in 1905.
    I bring all of my vintage baubles out of their cozy bins once a year. I look forward, with warm anticipation, to our annual visits. I tenderly lift each one out of its comfy ‘nest’ and find just the right place for it on my Christmas tree. And I consider, yet again: where it came from, how many respective hands have held it carefully, and eyes beheld it appreciatively. I realize, too, that I am honoured to be the one now holding these beautiful creations.
    Although I have more than enough baubles to amply cover my Christmas tree, regardless of its size, I am never through searching. A ‘good find’ still gives me a great adrenaline rush – and the magic continues!

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