Angel Christmas Ornaments - History

For most people, the traditional angel Christmas ornaments on the branches of their Christmas trees are a beautiful reminder of the spirit of the holiday. While many of us are aware of the story of the Christmas angel, fewer of us are aware as to the story of how angel Christmas ornaments became such an important part of the holiday decorations.

Though angels appear at various times in the Old Testament, the angel now known as the Christmas angel was a New Testament story, appearing to shepherds in the field the night of Christ's birth. Surrounded by light, the angel told the shepherds the Messiah was born in Bethlehem, and invited them to go worship him. The humble and inclusive nature of this story--inviting all people to come to celebrate Christmas--is part of why angel ornaments are so popular. They are a reminder that the spirit of Christmas is open to everyone.

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Though Christmas trees were popular in Roman times, the modern Christmas tree tradition was started in 16th-century Germany. These early Christmas trees celebrated the angel's visit through candles in order to reflect the North Star as well as the light the angel brought to the shepherds. As time went on, these symbols became more literal and more dramatic, with angels, trumpets, golden stars, and shepherds decorating the tree. By the Victorian era, Christmas trees had spread in popularity to much of Western Europe, and so had Christmas ornaments.

It was primarily in Britain where the angels became the most popular symbols of the Christmas holiday. The Victorians loved the drama and the purity of angels, using them in public sculptures, buildings, and literature whenever possible. It's no surprise, then, that Victorian Christmas trees were dripping with angel Christmas ornaments of cotton, porcelain, tin, paper, and glass. Many of the best crafted and most prized angel Christmas ornaments were made in the birthplace of Christmas tree ornaments: Germany. Dresden in particular was known for its embossed metal angels which twinkled in thousands of colour.

In America, Christmas tree ornaments didn't become popular until almost the 20th century, due in no small part to our Puritan heritage. The Puritans viewed Christmas celebrations as idolatrous, and that view continued until the last half of the 19th century. However, once Americans embraced Christmas ornaments, they embraced them in a big way.

On American trees, imported angel Christmas ornaments from Japan and Germany were all the rage. Japanese angels in particular exploded in popularity after WWI until WWII. After the war, Japan began to produce angels in plastic, papier-mâché, wood and white metal, selling these to Europeans.

Due in no small part to the animosity between Japan and America during WWII, in the 1940's America imported angel Christmas ornaments from Mexico and South America instead of Japan. These mid-century ornaments were much less refined than the German or Japanese angels, partially as a result of the American crazing for folk art that began to emerge in the 1950's and 1960's.

Today, angel Christmas ornaments are more popular than ever, and no single style dominates the market. Some prefer the ornate French and German style with billowing robes and blonde hair. Others prefer the simple folk angels made from beads or wood. However, no matter what material or culture, the spirit of the Christmas angel is what really drives the popularity of these unique Christmas ornament.