Beaded Ornaments

Once the wrapping paper has settled and the relatives head back home, it's hard not to feel a little bit down at the end of the Christmas season. One of the things that helps is thinking of all the ways we helped others--volunteer efforts, or the loving gifts given. One thing I like to try to incorporate into my Christmas festivities is fair-trade items, such as hand-beaded ornaments or decorations. It's a simple and easy way I can give back with gift giving with Christmas Ornaments.

Fair-trade items (like beaded ornaments) aim to help producers and artisans in other countries become self-sustaining by developing their own industries. It's sweat-shop free, and makes sure the workers get a fair wage for their efforts. It's also a great opportunity for women to start and run their own businesses.


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Most people associate fair trade with food like wheat or coffee. But art and handicrafts also benefit from the fair trade system. In fact, almost every type of arts and crafts you can think of usually has a fair trade equivalent. This year, when it came time to decorate my Christmas tree, I took some time to look around, and was delighted to see some of the options available. In particular, I was drawn to fair trade beaded ornaments from Africa and Central America.

Africa has a history of beading that dates back to the Egyptians. Since colonization, Southern African tribes like the Zulu started using the art of beading to teach moral lessons as well as beautify clothing, weapons--even thrones. Southern African beaded ornaments have the same sort of striking designs and colors that you see with other examples of African bead work. The KwaZulu Natal tribe creates angel beaded ornaments with cold and black beads with gilded halos. Each angel is woven by hand using traditional weaving and beading techniques. This helps the women sustain a skill they already possess, monetize it, and pass it down to the next generation.

Central South American beadwork is more recent than African work; the Central and South American tribes carved jade and formed gold long before they took up beadwork. Beads were often made out of native wood, bone, or rock, rather than colorful jade or glass. In the post-Columbian Americas, however, beadwork became more important as an art form.

If you're looking for beautiful fair-trade beaded ornaments from Central America, I love the Christmas trees woven by the Mujeres Artesanas Ixkoq'a women. This group of Mayan women live in the western highlands of Guatemala, and use traditional backstrap weaving in many of their pieces. The money raised by the sale of the glass-beaded trees supports each women's family, as many of these women are single or widowed.

Fair trade beaded ornaments look absolutely beautiful on any Christmas tree, and are wonderful presents to give to friends and family. By buying your Christmas gifts and decorations from local farmers and artists, you're helping make everyone's Christmas a little brighter.