Many people’s homes are sporting garlands and lights this time of year. Christmas time is practically synonymous with silver bells, candy canes, and mistletoe. But why do some of the things we decorate our homes with in December say “Christmas” to us? Let’s explore how these Christmas decor items came to be so commonplace.
— This article is sponsored by Green Papaya —
Like so many other Christmas traditions, tinsel seems to find its origins in Nuremberg, Germany. At the time when people used real candles to light their Christmas trees (can you imagine?!) they discovered that hanging thin strands of real silver in the tree reflected the candlelight nicely. But silver was costly, of course, and not easy to come by. Eventually people started using tin instead, then aluminum. But today’s tinsel strands are factory-made out of PVC.
Ever heard of Pliny the Elder? This famous ancient Roman had a lot to say about medicine and herbal remedies, and he pointed out that mistletoe had quite a few healing properties. And those mysterious Celtic Druids? They interpreted the blossoming of the mistletoe during the harsh winter months to symbolize fertility and “vivacity.” Over the years, mistletoe was simply associated with love. And it’s prevalence during wintertime probably explains how it became commonplace in Christmas decor. But nobody knows if the legend is true about a kiss under the mistletoe bringing good luck. Better safe than sorry!
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It was suggested that Christmas pyramids were a predecessor to the Christmas Tree but that these pyramids were not limited to Christmas time. In fact, during Summer solstice, there was a custom of dancing around “St. John’s Tree” decked with garlands and flowers. Today, these pyramids (aka spinning candle carousels or candle spinners) come in different shapes and materials. At Green Papaya, we have chosen to work with less “flammable” materials, like steel/aluminum and glass, and designs that can fit different candle sizes from tea lights to large container candles.
The concept of candle carousels is the same as that of Christmas pyramids. When the hot air from the candle rises, it hits the rotary blade of the carousel and tries to “push it out of the way” and makes the ornaments move in a clock-wise direction. Science plus art equals one mesmerizing candle accessory: the Candle Carousel!
The ancient Romans famously used wreaths as a symbol of victory. We still see this today in all the symbolism surrounding the Olympics. But Christmas wreaths became popular only after people started celebrating the holiday with Christmas trees. In shaping and trimming their trees, they’d often have leftover boughs. Nothing was ever wasted in those days, so those boughs were used for “extra” decorations, and eventually became gussied up and turned into their own stand-alone Christmas decor.
If you’ve ever been a parent or a child, then this bit of Christmas history is for you. It boils down this: every now and then candy makes a solid bribe for good behavior. Way back in the 1600’s, the German folks who wanted their children to sit still and behave nicely during Christmas services pulled out the candy bribe but put a literal twist on it. They bent candy into the shape of a shepherd’s staff to correspond to the Christmas message their children were hearing. It wasn’t until the 1900s that candy canes became peppermint flavored and striped.
Here’s a bit of history that will probably surprise you. Poinsettias, as we call them, come from Mexico – specifically, the Aztecs called them “cuetlaxochitl.” Montezuma was so enamored with their beautiful shape and color that he created a booming local industry surrounding them. As it happens, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico happened to be something of a botanist. So when he traveled to Mexico and saw this beautiful plant that reaches maximum coloration right around the time of Christmas, he sent some home to cultivate in his own greenhouses. That man’s name? Joel Roberts Poinsett.
The history of holly as Christmas decor is a bit muddled, which as it happens, is perfectly appropriate. Basically the ancient European people noticed that holly, like mistletoe, thrived even during the coldest and harshest of winters. They attached various meanings to its hardiness, but used it prolifically in pagan celebrations of all kinds, and continued to use it decoratively once Christianity came on the scene. One thing’s for sure: holly is poisonous. Please keep it away from your children and pets!
You’ve heard of building a better mousetrap. Snow globes come from an inventor trying to make a better light bulb! Austrian Erwin Perzy attempted to duplicate the light magnifying effects of a solid glass lens by filling a glass dome with water and floating light-reflecting particles inside. One of his early attempts was with simple semolina, which floated around in the water “like snow.” The rest is history!
This article is sponsored by Green Papaya. Green Papaya was established in 2018 by a working scientist-mom. She wanted to find a better alternative to store bought candles, wax melts, and tea lights that are too strong-scented and irritating to the nose and airways. She noticed that store-bought, generic candles burned fast, gave off soot, and some of them produced an odd-looking clump after the first burn. Armed with her knowledge of product development and quality management principles, she set out to create a candle line that she would want to use every day with her family and friends.
Holly Christy is a local small business owner, wife of 20+ years, mother to tweens, and an entrepreneur. She holds an MBA, and uses her talents for writing, event planning, and making connections to grow her own business as well as those of her clients.