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Christmas Baubles

December 18, 2022
by the gentle author

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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

Russian cosmonauts from the sixties that I bought in Spitalfields Market

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

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Garrick Davis permalink
    December 18, 2022

    What treasures. A charming family ritual, wonderfully conveyed and much appreciated.

  2. December 18, 2022

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

    Love & Peace

  3. Christine Dalton permalink
    December 18, 2022

    Thank you for sharing your baubles and memories x

  4. Robin permalink
    December 18, 2022

    So wonderful to pull out beloved Christmas ornaments each year, and have them remind us of the good times of previous Christmas family celebrations. Happy Christmas to you, Gentle Author, and many thanks for another year of posts sharing your community and friendship with us all.

  5. Cherub permalink
    December 18, 2022

    Sadly, my own collection was lost because of a burst pipe flood at my house in Essex 20 years ago. I’m now collecting hand made baubles in Basel, souvenirs for when we retire and move back to Scotland. This year I’m going to buy one in the shape of an old tram. A gentleman who owns a hand made bauble shop oversees the decoration of the main trees in the city, they are very beautiful to see, especially inside the town hall courtyard and by the cathedral.

  6. December 18, 2022

    These fragile baubles remind me of childhood Christmases some good, some not so good. My mother’s baubles have long gone and most of mine are now indestructible or wooden. I do have one glass bauble, which was a present from a former colleague, whose Cornish friend made it.

    My favourites from our present, quite modern, collection are a couple of crocheted stars in white lace, a gift from America, which I have had for 23 years and a plaster snow man my son made around 30 years ago, which we put at the foot of the tree. Memories are so important.

    Wishing you and Schrödinger a wonderful Christmas, cozy and warm with bracing walks and a tipple in your favourite local. Thank you for sharing your East End life in one of the world’s most wonderful cities.

  7. Sue permalink
    December 18, 2022

    I remember so many of those glass baubles.
    I loved the birds with the glass fibre tails that we had for years as children. By the time Mum lived with us they had disappeared.

  8. Patty Johnson permalink
    December 19, 2022

    I love them. I have some that I bought in the 1980s, but none from my childhood tree.

  9. Suzy permalink
    December 20, 2022

    Oh I can’t begin to express how much this post sings to my heart!
    I’m now 44 and have never experienced the joy of decorating a Christmas Tree on account of a religion I was born into.
    Now out of the organization I was in, I find myself suddenly fascinated by the art of decorating a tree. I study xmas trees everywhere and I’ve started a Pinterest board entitled, Vintage Christmas Tree because I plan to – hopefully next year – have a beautiful tree and it’s these kinds of decorations that lighten my heart.
    I’m not sure my first attempt will be Artful but I know it will be eclectic and FUN and colourful and full of joy. :o)
    The joy of having several generations worth of baubles must be just wonderful!

    Happy Christmas Mr TGA. ✨??

  10. Lizebeth permalink
    December 20, 2022

    I join with the other comments here in wishing you and yours a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year. I, too, have a few ornaments from my childhood (I’m now aged 75). Don’t know how they have survived. Or me, come to think of it. I remember going out in New York City every Christmas Eve to buy our tree, which would be discounted by then, and adorning it with glass baubles while sipping hot chocolate. We then kept it well into the new year, and carefully packed its treasures away in cotton to await the next year’s tree.

    It is lovely to share these stories and memories with you and your readers.

  11. Stella permalink
    December 27, 2022

    Your baubles are wonderful Gentle Author. I too have baubles that I love and cherish. Also a beautiful bird that I splashed out on one year from Harrods, I can’t remember what it cost but I do remember feeling very extravagant spending so much (it must have been something like £2)
    but I love it and he’s always perched near the top of my tree every year.

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