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Art & Antiques by Dr. Lori: Twelve Holiday Decorations

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Did you know the origins of these twelve popular Holiday Decorations?

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1. Poinsettia
In 1828, the Mexican poinsettia plant was introduced to Americans by our first ambassador to Mexico, Dr. Joel Poinsett. The decorative plant was revered for its green and red leaves that offer a bright addition to the monochromatic winter landscape. The complimentary color pair of red and green is visually stimulating to the optic nerve when coupled together making the poinsettia plant an attractive addition to any holiday décor.

2. Mistletoe and holly
Mistletoe’s pagan origins and holly’s Christian symbolism have made the two plants rivals for centuries. Mistletoe was associated with the Norse goddess of love (which explains all the kissing) while Christians promoted holly for its connection to Christ. Holly’s thorny green leaves recall the crown of thorns. Its evergreen color signifies eternal life and the prominent blood red berries remind us of Christ’s blood during his suffering. In Colonial America, holly sprigs decorated holiday church pews, tavern walls, and windowpanes from the start of Advent through the Epiphany (January 6).

3. Candy canes
Made in the form of a shepherd’s crook, the candy canes were first introduced to the French court of King Louis XV in the early 1700s. Candy canes were used a bribe to keep children quiet during long Christmas church services. Candy canes were made in alternating red and white colors to recall the red of Jesus’ sacrificial blood and the white of the purity of the Virgin Mary and the fallen snow.

4. Della Robbia wreaths
The works of Renaissance master, Luca della Robbia were highlighted with fruit wreaths in the 15th Century. Della Robbia wreaths featured green apples, oranges, lemons, and pineapples. The wreath’s ornamental apples symbolized the family and fertility, the oranges paid homage to the womb of the Virgin Mary, lemons signified friendship, and pineapples are longstanding signs of hospitality.

5. Evergreens
In the 4th Century AD, Pope Julius I deemed December 25 as the official date of Christmas so the holiday would coincide with winter festivals. Brought indoors by Germanic peoples dating back to the 7th Century, evergreens are popular for their sweet fragrance and rich color. Trees, boughs, and garlands decorated hearths, doorways, and railings. Strung with pinecones, fruits, and berries, extravagant garlands welcomed winter into warm and aromatic homes.

6. Kissing ball
The kissing ball is a Colonial American invention. Made of seasonal greens suspended by a red ribbon. Kissing balls were prominent symbols during December’s festivities. At the center of seasonal parties and weddings, the kissing ball suggested the happy mood when December offered freedom from chores associated with farming. The fragrant scent of these evergreen or boxwood balls were welcomed additions to any home.

7. Fruit rings, pomanders, pyramids
Fruit pyramids, rings, and aromatic pomanders dating back to the Colonial period were among the delights of a holiday home. Scents of fresh fruit and spices lingered from the table top fruit pyramids suggesting architecture. Sweet smelling fruit pomanders were prominently hung front and center in a home’s entry foyer. Enhanced with whole cloves, pomanders and pyramids of oranges, limes, or lemons hung over doorways and in stairwells to give busy areas of a home a lovely scent. They were used to ward off foul odors that were thought to bring illness into a home in winter.

8. Gift wrap and 9. Holiday bows

Greeting card tycoon, Joyce C. Hall of Hallmark is credited with introducing the world to modern-day gift wrap.

In December of 1917, a Hallmark store in Kansas City, MO sold out of the traditional red and green tissue paper used for wrapping gifts. To satisfy holiday demand for wrapping paper, the Hallmark store offered customers decorative, printed, envelope-lining paper instead. The full size sheets sold quickly at 10 cents each. By Christmas 1918, Hallmark was charging 25 cents per sheet and a holiday wrapping tradition was born. In the 1930s, Hallmark’s introduced another holiday wrapping item, the Hall Sheen ribbon which stuck to gift wrapped box when licked.

10. Christmas cards
British businessmen, John Horsley and Sir Henry Cole introduced the first Christmas card in 1843 and coined the phrase, “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”.
A rare Christmas card—one of the first ever made--sold at a London, England auction for nearly $10,000 a few years ago.

11. Holiday postage stamp
With a value of 4 cents for first class postage, American Christmas stamp was introduced in 1962. It featured lit candles and a wreath. Today, the USPS offers two first class stamps for the holiday season: one religious and one secular.

12. Snow globes
Introduced in France, the snow globe was a successor to the glass paperweight. Made of heavy lead glass domes placed over ceramic tableaus, snow globes got worldwide attention following the 1889 International Exposition in Paris. At the Paris Expo, organizers featured a snow globe souvenir with a model of the newly constructed Eiffel Tower inside.

By the 1900s, Central European artisans exported the glass domes that they blew to protect clockwork movements from dust to the snow globe industry in America. Later, snow globes were mass-produced in America thanks to a Pittsburgh's own Joseph Garajha. Garajha’s snow globe patent featured an innovative base that allowed the water-filled and sealed globes to screw into a base unit like a light bulb. The 'snow' was made of bone and porcelain chips or non-soluble soap flakes. Today, ‘snow' is made from tiny pieces of plastic and enhanced with distilled water and glycerin to make the water denser which makes the flakes appear to realistically hover just as snowflakes fall.

Happy holidays!

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