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A look at Christmas tree trends from the past

00:00 03 December 2015

Christmas decorations

Christmas decorations

Archant

Coral McCloud looks back at Christmas tree from the last century to inspire the retro look

Christmas trees became popular in the UK only after 1840 when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, who brought the tradition over from Germany. At the time it was very fashionable to emulate the royal family so it quickly became commonplace for British homes to have their own fir tree at Christmas time. The rise of print media ensured that the tradition travelled round the country and across the Empire.

The way trees have been decorated has changed radically over the last hundred years with some standing the test of time and others itching to be revived.

1900’s Business boomed for Frank Woolworth in the USA when he began to import German glass ornaments. He introduced them to Britain in 1909 when his first international store opened in Liverpool. At first they could be afforded only by Edwardian high society but Woolworth quickly brought the price down, making them a best seller.

10’s After the start of the First World War supply lines were cut, so glass ornaments were made locally with simpler designs. Multi-coloured beads were also popular.

20’s

Elaborate paper decorations became the craze, with colourful paper chains and ornaments which unfolded into bells, fancy pom-pom balls or stars. Cotton-spun ornaments were also used. As the 20’s progressed, the trees grew larger and the angel and star tree toppers we still use today were introduced.

30’s

Handmade items were still very popular, including threading popcorn onto a string. Bright coloured paper and ornaments were used, though colour co-ordination was not a concern as materials were expensive and difficult to come by. Electric lights were starting to be used but many still used candles to make their tree twinkle. As you might imagine, this occasionally ended in disaster.

40’s

During the wartime, many families spent nights of the festive period in air-raid shelters. As a result, very short Christmas trees were in demand because of the height of the shelters. Keep calm and carry on Christmas!

50’s

The 50’s was the age of tinsel. It was even used in preference to fairy lights due to it being much less of a fire hazard. However, it was not always a healthy choice as it was often made from lead, which did not tarnish like its silver predecessor.

60’s

Man-made fibres revolutionised what was available. Mass produced plastic ornaments from Hong Kong became widely available, as did the first fake trees made of aluminium or nylon. There were two popular types of baubles; the icicle and the ball with a crushed in or indented look.

70’s-80’s

From ‘anything goes’ to ‘more is better’, modern decorations were in full swing, with plastic shatterproof ornaments alongside traditional glass models, corsages, foil decorations, paper chains, crackers, lights, tinsel and garlands filling the (fake) trees. People also used old family ornaments, creating a rather chaotic mix.

90’s

In this decade, the idea of themed decorations and ‘designer’ trees became the norm, with real trees making a come-back. Department stores began to offer colour co-ordinated sets and single colour light strings. The first easy to assemble pre-lit trees were also introduced.

Today, we continue to create themed designs for our trees. Natural colours and materials are popular as well as metallic tones. Perhaps it is time we shake things up a bit and embrace some of our eclectic past traditions. Paper chain anybody?w

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