How a bad apple harvest led to the first glass Christmas tree balls

What happened to turning the apples into transparent spheres? By Christmas, all the apples were gone, so the glassmakers decided to substitute glass balls for the genuine thing.

How a bad apple harvest led to the first glass Christmas tree balls
Apples that didn't turn out well in the harvest led to the first glass ornaments for Christmas trees. Photo by Andre Benz / Unsplash

Since the first Christmas tree was decorated some 400 years ago, a lot has changed. The first decorations had something to do with religion. The apple, which was one of these symbols, stood for the fruit from the Garden of Eden. There were red apples on top of the Christmas tree.

How did the apples turn into glass balls, though? A story says that in Thuringia, where there were many small glass-blowing shops in 1848, there was a very bad apple harvest. By Christmas, all the apples had been eaten, so the glassblowers decided to make glass balls to stand in for the real apples.

Then, the town's glass blowers decided that if they couldn't find real apples, they could make red glass balls that looked like apples. Unexpectedly, all of the glass balls sold out very quickly, and from then on, glass ornaments have been one of the most popular things to hang on a Christmas tree.

At first, they were red glass balls, but as people got better at shaping glass, they started to make other shapes. Glass ornaments often reflected the most important things that happened in the world or a country.

There was even a whole fashion for glass ornaments

People who collect these ornaments are making whole collections out of them. Over time, other fruits were added to apples, and strawberries and raspberries, which were not available at Christmas, began to be used to make ornaments.

The Christian theme also began to grow. From the beginning, every tree had to have a Star of Bethlehem with an angel on top. Most of the time, it was drawn on paper, but as the tradition of glass-molding grew, these stars started to be made of glass, and collections of angels, Christ, Our Lady, and, of course, Saint Nicholas started to form again.

At the beginning of the 20th century, when the first trains and cars were made, these kinds of figures began to be made out of glass and put on Christmas trees.

Changes happened a lot in the 20th century, and you could find Christmas tree factories in almost every country and city. In the 1960s, people learned about space, and astronaut figurines started to be made. Many people still remember the rockets from when they were kids. They were used to decorate Christmas trees. Figurines made of glass kept up with the times.

There aren't many of these factories making Christmas tree decorations left in Europe today, but they are still there, and we can still buy them at Christmas markets in many European cities and add them to our collections.

Plastic won out at the end of the 20th century. We are also very familiar with plastic decorations, which we can use on our Christmas trees just as well as glass baubles.