The popularization of Father Christmas or Santa Claus has roots that go back 1,000 years in western civilization. Though retailers focus on certain motifs in their decorations, red and white, silver and blue, reindeers and such, with very little of the context of the traditional decorations in evidence, those wishing to bring an element of historical accuracy and Victorian charm to their decorations might find inspiration in learning about and incorporating some of the earlier aesthetics into their holiday home décor.
Some Christmas decorations have rather gruesome origins, like the Christmas tree, which is believed to have come into being when Saint Boniface (circa 722) stopped a young child from being used as a sacrifice, striking down an oak tree that was to be used as a stake. In its place legend has it that a fir tree sprang and the saint asked that the faithful carry one (which was now considered holy) home and ornament it with gifts and love.
To capture this profoundly moving narrative in your home, might we suggest that your Christmas tree decorations incorporate objects that can display the artifacts of children in your family, such as antique or elegantly distressed frames of family photos, letters, previous Christmas cards? To add another patina of antiquity to those decorations, you might want to include childhood artifacts, such as old cards, pictures, toys, and photos from your childhood and any you can find that go back to the origins of your family. The Christmas tree began as a way to honor and celebrate the love for and of children, these are some of the many ways you can express that sentiment.
Though Christmas tree decorations had been limited to the colors red and white - symbolizing innocence and knowledge - there is evidence of the gamut of colors used in paper flowers which decorated them by the 17th century. In addition to paper flowers, candy twists and gingerbread shapes and figures were commonly used to decorate Christmas trees, and the first tinsel (real silver stretched into strips) was imported from Germany. As late as the 1800s, decorations were still handmade. People crocheted stars and snowflakes and made paper baskets to present sugared almonds by hand. Glass baubles were also on display and the first electric lights were patented in 1882. After a brief decline in English Christmas trees after the death of Queen Victoria, they rebounded as the tales of Dickens brought them back into vogue.
Kissing Under the Mistletoe
Mistletoe, considered sacred to the Druids, was dedicated to the Goddess of Love and never allowed to touch the ground (hence the practice of hanging it and kissing under it). Holly has ancient origins as well, but like mistletoe has been coopted by later Christian traditions and now signifies a home that celebrates the birth of Christ.
How Did We Come to Send Christmas Cards?
First made by Sir Henry Cole of the British Postal Service in 1843, the first Christmas card depicted a family scene saddled by two pictures which conveyed the need for Christian charity. The text read: A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You, a time-honored tradition that endures until this day. It's believed that the card was inspired by the habit of schoolboys sending "Christmas Pieces" home to display their writing skills. Whatever the source of Sir Cole's inspired invention, the idea of sending delightful and decorative missives to friends, family, and even business associates caught fire and remains one of the most charming traditions of the season.
To help you create a unique holiday experience, the following are some ideas for incorporating historic Christmas decorative motifs into your decoration scheme. Mantels, alcoves and other surfaces can showcase fine art that you've collected and be interspersed with vintage cards, ornaments, toys, or figurines. To enliven your fine art, consider draping it with mistletoe or holly and perhaps interweaving love notes to your beloved or loved ones. Lastly, the delight of a Christmas stocking need not be merely a plea for goodies from Santa Claus, it can bring a cheery quality to artful sconces, sculptures or other art pieces - especially in homes that lack the traditional fireplace mantel.
We hope these ideas inspire you to create your own traditions this holiday season!
Alex Thompson is an expert in the art industry and has been an interior designer for a number of years. He specializes in home and office decor and highly recommends art products from Anne Thull because they offer a range of unique art designs. Feel free to connect with him over at Google+ for more information or questions.