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Christmas Baubles

December 24, 2020
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 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 flight 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

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

42 Responses leave one →
  1. Glenn permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Lovely! Thanks for another year of great stories. Merry Christmas.

  2. Su C. permalink
    December 24, 2020

    These are wonderful! I love decorating our tree. I can remember where or from whom we received each ornament. I remember that place or person every year as I unwrap, admire, and hang each ornament. Peace and happy Christmas.

  3. Lesley permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Merry Christmas, Gentle Author.

  4. Nicola permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Beautifully written, as ever. Your little tricycle, what a treasure to behold among the baubles. Thank you for another year of treasured writing – usually the only emails worth reading in my in-box each morning. Wishing you – and all of us – a happy Christmas and much safer 2021.

  5. December 24, 2020

    Thank you for sharing these treasures. How wonderful to have so many of your grandmother’s. The best thing about Christmas trees for me is remembering the story behind each item: the glass of granny’s delicate red glass bauble decorated with silver glitter stars is cracked with age and my heart is in my mouth when I unwrap it, the hollow egg that my sister decorated at school and the clothes peg angel with foil wings and a tissue paper dress which I made with my mum when I was very small: each object has a story to tell. I have loved reading about yours and wish you a peaceful Christmas Eve filled with candlelight and good things … and merry Christmas to Schrodinger too: I am picturing him batting the baubles within his reach.

  6. Jill Wilson permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Like you, I’m sure many other people have ‘trad’ baubles which have to go on the Christmas tree every year. The oldest one in our family is a Father Christmas sitting in a cardboard plane which was given to my father when he was a young boy so must be nearly ninety years old now. The cardboard is covered in silver glitter which has tarnished with age and is now almost black, adding to it’s period charm.

    We have a fairy rather than a star at the top of the tree and she is at least sixty years old, and some pretty glass icicles which again have been around for as long as I can remember.

    My grandmother always had real candles on her tree and it was a magical time when they were lit in the dark sitting room with the sound of the grandfather clock ticking away in the corner. My sister has inherited the special candle holders and continues this tradition for her grandchildren – although of course this year they can’t be with her in person which is very sad.

    I will suggest she shares the ceremony with us all via Zoom.

    Have a lovely time decorating your tree, and a very happy Christmas. And a happier and healthier new year of course! xxx

  7. Caroline Wilson permalink
    December 24, 2020

    A very Merry Christmas to you Gentle Author

    Seeing these beautiful precious shiny baubles will always bring a smile to ones face…. like you we have some very old thin glass ones that belonged to my mother and some from my husbands family that also go as far back as his grandmother.
    They are treated with the respect for items that saw another life and lots of Christmases…if only they could speak…
    We put them high up so we are able to see them clearly away from more modern ones we have.
    Every year we marvel at their quality, fine decoration on each and how they have lasted for so many years… hoping we’ll be able to pass them on in a few years time to be enjoyed by the next generation of the family.
    Thank you for sharing them with us…


  8. Stephen James permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Thank you, that brought back happy memories of helping to dress my parents tree with glass baubles over 60 years ago.

  9. December 24, 2020

    The fragility and beauty of life has been very much brought home to us in recent months. Thank you for continuing to share your – and your neighbours- stories at this time. Wishing you and Schrodinger a most peaceful Christmas.

  10. December 24, 2020

    Gentle Author, this is such a beautiful post today and has taken me back to the Christmas Eve’s of my childhood when I would help my dad to decorate our Christmas tree with similar delicate, glass decorations. The house would be filled with that wonderful smell of pine needles and our ‘front room’ would transform into a magical place.

    Thank you for another year of uplifting and inspirational messages of hope and light, which lifted the gloom of some very dark days.

    I wish you and Schrodinger a peaceful Christmas and here’s hoping for a brighter and happier 2021 for all your readers and everyone worldwide.

  11. Stevo permalink
    December 24, 2020

    These are amazing, wish modern day Xmas tree decorations designers looked at these and bring them back for everyone. I’d love to have some of those.

  12. December 24, 2020

    *** MERRY CHRISTMAS! ***
    *** JOYEUX NOËL! ***

    Whether there will still be a White Christmas,
    that Question is completely unanswered today.
    What is certain, however, is that this
    “Annus horribilis”
    will soon be over and the
    New Year 2021
    will be better!

    Love & Peace

  13. Sarah Swan permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Dear GA, A Merry Christmas to you and Schrodinger and a Happy and Healthy New Year. Today’s post evokes so many Christmas memories. Thank you again for all your posts and for making a neighbourhood come together and not only in Spitalfields. You have gathered people together from all over the world.

  14. Adele Lester permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Enjoy GA, as much as the enjoyment you give us all year!
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

  15. Jacqui permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Thanks for this lyrical piece and photographs about your ornament collection. Indeed collectively they tell an autobiography! Have a good Christmas and thanks for your posts.

  16. paul loften permalink
    December 24, 2020

    The best baubles I have ever seen! Have a good Christmas

  17. December 24, 2020

    When I was a young married, (long ago and far away…… the Sixties) I expressed to my mother that I wanted a “memory tree”. Mom, as always, knew exactly what I meant. She knew that I wanted to have a holiday tree replete with endless meaningful and interesting baubles (ahem) that, collectively, would be a king’s ransom of fascination and significance. All these years later……fifty-plus actually……..we have that tree. Best of all, my mother got us started in a grand way; by making a large stash of unique handmade ornaments fashioned from her old jewelry bits and bobs. Oh my. Thanks, Mom. YOU were a treasure.
    As years passed, my husband and I gave yearly tree-decorating parties in our loft in New York asking everyone to “bring a hand made ornament”; and you can imagine the outcome. Any travel exploits (remember those?) would include purchasing an ornament as a remembrance, so I have a tiny Native American drum from Taos, colorful tin ornaments from Mexico, and ceramic heraldic orbs from the Palio in Siena Italy, etc. On and on.
    Decorating the tree takes at least two days, as I proceed in low gear…….admiring each ornament, recalling the giver, or the occasion, or the destination. And Mom’s ornaments always are added at the very end. She was the founder of the feast. In many ways.

    GA, I am so thrilled to read and resonate to your post today, and am doubly happy that so many readers added their thoughts and traditions. What a gift! Stay safe, all.

  18. Janet permalink
    December 24, 2020

    A Merry Christmas to you Gentle Author and to your Readers.
    I had a trike like yours and probably received it at Christmas just before I turned 2 on New Years’ Day. I know this because my very first memory dates from prior to September 28 1946 when I was asked by my mother if I would like a baby brother or sister. I clearly remember sitting on my trike at the time. Grim post War days of shortages and rationing but made magical by loving parents.
    How familiar those lovely fragile ornaments look. The beautiful pristine designer trees of the wealthy are not loved like those with several lifetimes of nostalgic decorations.

  19. Valerie permalink
    December 24, 2020

    I began my own collection in 1978/9 and in 1979 made use of a foolscap size book of blank pages to document my first tree – diary/album/ scrap book. The book contains 7 Christmases.

    I can tell you that the photo here of 6 balls reflects what I bought at John Lewis & put on that 1st tree of my own. 1979 saw me discover handmade glitterballs from Nice Irma’s Floating Carpet & painted glass articulated puppets at Heals nearby in Tottenham Court Rd. Gold & red metal ‘lametta’ from Harrods special room of decorations along with little painted figurines. I still have their magic to unwrap & get sentimental over.

    Merry Christmas everyone!

  20. Ian Silverton permalink
    December 24, 2020

    GA, A very Merry Christmas to you and yours, and all readers of this blog, stay well and safe in Brick Lane, and Enjoy 2021 as a truly New Year in every good way. Best, Ian Silverton.

  21. December 24, 2020

    Thank you for a sweet trip down memory lane, I live Christmas and have say list alot if not all of my childhood decorations, is nice seeing some of them in your images, the nostalgia alone is a great Christmas eve treat. Merry Christmas to your family.

  22. Leslie permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Merry Christmas and wishes for a Happy New Year

  23. December 24, 2020

    Thank you for a sweet trip down memory lane, I love Christmas and have say lost alot if not all of my childhood decorations, it is nice seeing some of them in your images, the nostalgia alone is a great Christmas eve treat. Merry Christmas to you and yours


  24. December 24, 2020

    Thank you for a sweet trip down memory lane, I love Christmas and have lost alot if not all of my childhood decorations, it is nice seeing some of them in your images, the nostalgia alone is a great Christmas eve treat. Merry Christmas to you and yours


  25. Christina Rosa permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Lovely nostalgic photos . Thank you Gentle Author for this and your work all year.
    Happiness and peace
    Christina Rosa

  26. Chris Simpson permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Merry Christmas to you Gentle Author. You have sustained us all through this horrible year and for a brief moment each day we get to read about and see the curious, fascinating and wonderful world of the London that I know and love

    Thank You

  27. Barbara Rose permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Happy Christmas Dear Gentle Author

    I thank you deeply for all of your wonderful blogs. Like all of us, I look forward to receiving them every morning.

    Very best wishes to you.


  28. Saba permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Just adding my sincere best wishes to you, GA, and to all the GRs for wonderful holidays!

  29. Kassie Schwan permalink
    December 24, 2020

    I look forward every year to your very moving Christmas remembrances. Thank you for this sweet essay. Merry Christmas, and best wishes for hope, health and happiness in the New Year.

  30. Paola Moore permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Dear Gentle Author,
    Thankyou for keeping calm and carrying on. This year your blogs have kept us going and re-visiting the old ones always a joy.
    Festive wishes and wishing the best for 2021.

  31. Riha permalink
    December 24, 2020

    We too have a number of ancestral decorations. Most date from the 1930s – 1950s, though many have either been relegated to places other than the tree where little hands can reach them, or have been retired. Such is the case for a flock of glass birds that my grandmother acquired in the 1940s. They are beautiful, but I dare not use them. Most ornaments made prior to 1980 contain alarming quantities of lead paint and lead foil- much like the lovely little Art Deco nutmeg displayed in your blog. Most commercial gilding is achieved using lead foil, so one hopes your dear feline will have the sense to leave it alone.
    I have half a dozen other poisonous ornaments that were made by my great-grandmother in the early 1900s. All are cut out of card stock and feature scenes from fairy tales, nursery rhymes, or seasonal motifs. The oldest and largest is a German Bellschnickle (a uniquely German sort of proto-Santa Claus crossed with Krampus who is as likely to whip you for forgetting your manners as he is to give you sweets) who dates from the 1890s. All are trimmed with lead tinsel and Bellschnickle’s green robes are most likely tinted with arsenic! All of these are hung on a garland over my parlor door where they cannot get into any mischief.

  32. Sonia Murray permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Thank you for sharing these beautiful baubles, and all the memories of Christmas past they bring to us. My treasures come out every year and, like yours, grace higher branches – a fiddle and a drum, a misty glass ball with silvery rivers and trees, a pink glass ball with stars and moons, all memories of our first Christmas tree together in 1955; the tiny wooden shelter with donkey and creche my father mailed from London just before he died in 1962; the angels our children made in kinderschule while my husband was stationed in Germany… The fragile globe with seas of royal blue and shining continents of gold, a bauble from a silent auction long ago. So many memories! Your articles are always beautifully written, treasures in themselves. Merry Christmas, GA, and thank you again! Stay safe!

  33. Amanda permalink
    December 24, 2020

    l love the sentiment you have for your grandmother’s and mother’s Christmas treasures of which we had similar in those ‘egg’ boxes stashed in the attic a year at a time.

    Getting them down was such excitement and finding those figurines we had forgotten and giving them a kiss to welcome them back from their long sleep.
    Nothing since has looked as good or as curious as those made in Germany.

    l too have a tradition of an outside tree and magical lighting inside and out, and a beautiful theme of wonderment every year, despite not having children.

    Very pleased to say my creativity last year very much inspired some of my “baubleless” neighbours, and this year almost all the gardens along my row are also festooned with an aura of sparkling magic.

    l heard a lovely refrain from an elderly artist who says:
    “Be blessed and be a blessing to someone every day.”

    And that is what the GA is to many of us. Good tidings to all.

  34. Ann V permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Thank you for the beautiful Christmas blog. It took me back over 60 years when Dad used to decorate the Christmas tree. We didn’t have much money so among the tree decorations were pine cones that Dad painted in different colours. I still have two little plastic bells which I put on the Christmas tree every year that are well over 60 years old. I also have a Father Christmas made of papier-mache. He is very much treasured. I hope you GA and all your followers have a Happy Christmas, and let’s hope 2021 is a happier year than 2020.

  35. Mary permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Dear GA thank you for such a beautiful and evocative post and how lovely that you follow the old tradition of decorating your tree on Christmas Eve. The old tree decorations are wonderful and prompt many memories of loved ones now passed.
    I know Christmas has really arrived when we put our angel, Gladys Christmas, on the top of the tree each year. She is now held together with glue and sticky tape, her wings are droopy but she has been part of ours and our children’s Christmas for over forty years. Many of our decorations go back to my childhood.
    A very happy Christmas to you, Schrodinger and all readers wherever you are in the world. May you all stay safe and well and have a much better 2021.

  36. Suzanne Shelton permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Dear Gentle Author,

    Christmas greetings from Chicago.

    I have many similar decorations inherited from my grandparents, as well as those acquired through the years that carry with them specific, treasured memories. Among my favorites is one shaped as a pocket watch, bought in 1999, with the words “welcome the new millennium!” printed on its face. It’s encrusted in glitter, but I have always seen it as it will appear to my children’s children’s children when I’m long gone and the glitter has worn off. Perhaps it will welcome in the next new millennium.

    I don’t comment often, but enjoy your photos and stories very much. Thank you for enhancing my life.

  37. Jo Ross permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Thankyou GA for this lovely blog. Sadly, I have no heirloom decorations so reading of yours was a joy. The wee bike added an extra poignancy.

    I’m off now to re-read your wonderful piece from last Christmas describing your pantomime years. I raise a glass of gin and tonic to you and wish you a very happy Christmas.

  38. Sue Richards permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Love the fact you’ve still got your first bicycle!

  39. Pamela Traves permalink
    December 24, 2020

    I Love All of these Vintage Christmas Tree Bobbles!! I had several on our Christmas Tree 60 years ago when I was five!!!????????⛄?

  40. Robin permalink
    December 24, 2020

    Happy Christmas, Gentle Author, and thank you for helping us all through this terrible year.

  41. Jane permalink
    December 25, 2020

    Merry Christmas Gentle Author,
    These beautiful decorations are lovely and I too have a few similar ones which my grandmother managed to bring when she was required to come to Canada with her three tiny daughters in 1918 after she lost her husband in WWI. She arrived in a tiny ice cold town on the prairies and made a life there. Thus, I was born in Canada rather than England. I cherish each Christmas these beautiful fragile glass bobbles and think of England and all her struggles over the century.
    Thank you for sharing these as it gives me so much pleasure.
    Jane Heavyside

  42. Sue permalink
    December 25, 2020

    Wonderful memories.

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