It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Deck the halls with balls of holly, and while you’re at it, hang up other decorations like wreaths, stockings, lights, and ornaments on a fir tree.

Santa didn’t come from the North Pole to demand that we make our homes look festive. So where did this tradition of decorating come from? Celebrate the season by learning the history of Christmas decorations!

Hour Glass

History of Christmas Decorations Timeline

Jump on the Polar Express! This timeline shows you key moments in Christmas decoration history, from ancient Roman feasts to giant celebrations in New York City.

  • 336 AD

    336 AD

    Christmas was first observed in Rome. In order to make the Christian holiday easier to embrace, the church used the same decorations that were common in pagan winter solstice festivals. This included wreaths, trees, and giant feasts.

  • 1475


    In Germany, they honored the winter solstice with a festival known as Yule. The fire was thought to encourage the sun to rise after the long, snowy season. It would burn for the 12 days leading to Christmas.

  • 1492


    An Italian politician named Cosimo de’ Medici was a huge patron of the arts. To add some flair to his mansion’s courtyard, he asked 19-year-old Michelangelo to build the world’s first snowman. To this day, people still love building snowmen as part of the Christmas displays in their own front yards!

  • 1500 – 1600

    1500 – 1600

    To celebrate the religious feast day of Adam and Eve, Germans decorated “paradise trees.” Apples were hung from the branches of fir or evergreens as a nod to the forbidden fruit mentioned in the Bible.

  • 1600s


    Poinsettias were used to decorate the nativity during Christmas celebrations in Mexico. Joel Robert Poinsett, the former U.S. Secretary of War, brought the flowers back from Mexico to the United States around 1827.

  • 1670


    A choir leader in Cologne, Germany handed out sugar sticks shaped like shepherd canes to the kids in his choir to stop them from fidgeting during the services. Today, 1.76 billion candy canes are made every single year. We love using this candy to decorate our Christmas trees.

  • 1700 – 1900

    1700 – 1900

    For close to 100 years, all European families used nuts, pinecones, popcorn, and paper garlands as Christmas tree decorations. They also hung up cranberries and oranges, which looked festive, but also attracted swarms of fruit flies.

  • 1823


    “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore was published. This poem, which is commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas,” made some of the earliest references to Santa Claus, stockings, and reindeer.

  • 1830s


    German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania and brought the tradition of decorating Christmas trees with them. Many Americans, however, were hesitant about the trees since they were originally associated with paganism.

  • 1843


    Christmas cards were available in London for the first time. John Calcott Horsley drew the illustrations on each card, which took a lot of time to perfect.

  • 1843


    Charles Dickens published “A Christmas Carol.” Ebenezer Scrooge’s name is now associated with grumpy people who hate the holidays. Today, you’ll see many Christmas displays and signs that are printed with the phrase “Bah Humbug!”

  • 1847


    Hans Greiner made the first Christmas ornaments (also known as Kugels) in Germany. These were shaped like fruits and nuts using hand blown glass. At first, mercury or lead was used to fill the inside of the ornaments. However, to make the process safer, they eventually started using silver nitrate and sugar water.

  • 1849


    Mrs. Claus was mentioned for the first time in the short story “A Christmas Legend” by Christian missionary James Rees. In the tale, Mrs. Claus and her husband are disguised as travelers who need to find shelter on Christmas Eve.

  • 1850


    Americans saw how glamorous a Christmas tree could be after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert set one up in Windsor Castle. Retail stores started selling them commercially for the first time, and they’ve been popular in the United States ever since.

  • 1856


    Franklin Pierce was the first U.S. president to set up a Christmas tree in the White House. This tall evergreen was displayed on the front lawn and was enjoyed by everyone in the D.C. area. It’s now part of Christmas tree history!

  • 1873


    Santa needed help in his workshop and thus, the Christmas elf was born! These magical creatures, which are inspired by European folklore, became popular thanks to an illustration in a popular magazine called Godey’s Lady Book.

  • 1874


    Macy’s in Herald Square created the first holiday window displays. Their original setup of vintage Christmas decorations featured porcelain dolls from around the world and scenes from the novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

  • 1875


    A Polish immigrant named Louis Prang made Christmas cards more widely available. He hired illustrators and used full color printing and lithography to mass-produce the cards in America. By 1881, he was selling about 5 million Christmas cards a year.

  • 1880


    Thomas Edison invented the first electric Christmas lights at the Automatic Telegraph Company in Menlo Park, New Jersey. He hung the lights up right outside of his lab, so people riding by on the train could see the display from their window.

  • 1881


    A Bavarian immigrant named Thomas Nast published political cartoons of Santa for Harper’s Weekly in 1863. Nast drew Santa again 20 years later with a bag of toys and in his trademark red suit. This is how America has pictured him ever since.

  • 1890


    Edward Johnson was an executive at the same lab as Thomas Edison. Together, they worked to create a string of Christmas lights using 80 electric light bulbs. By 1890, these lights were mass-produced and displayed at department stores.

  • 1890


    James Edgar became the first man to dress as Santa for a department store. He donned the jolly red suit for his dry goods store in Brockton, Massachusetts. Before long, other department stores starting offering their own Santa for kids to visit. It’s a tradition that still remains strong to this day.

  • 1903


    Christmas trees were becoming popular in the United States, and people wanted inexpensive lights to hang from the branches. General Electric offered a solution with pre-assembled kits of artificial lights. One of these kits would cost over $2,000 today.

  • 1905


    Edwin Perzy invented snow globes totally by accident! He was trying to brighten a light bulb and discovered that the white powder he was using looked like falling snow. Perzy went on to create Vienna Snow Globes so he could make these Christmas decorations full-time.

  • 1908


    A man named Gerhard Lang released the first printed advent calendars in Germany. He was inspired by a homemade calendar his mother created for him when he was a kid. She sewed twenty-four cookies onto the lid of a box and gave Lang permission to eat one every day during the Advent period.

  • 1910s


    Only the wealthy had money to spend on fancy lights and glass ornaments. As a result, most families made Christmas tree decorations by hand from paper, ribbon, cranberries, popcorn, and even painted walnut shells.

  • 1920s


    Western films like The Broncho Kid and The Last of the Mohicans were very popular in America. This was reflected in Christmas decorations from that decade as well as the gifts kids wanted, which included dolls, wagons, and BB guns.

  • 1930


    Coca-Cola is often credited with giving us the modern interpretation of Santa Claus. At the start of the Great Depression, they released an ad featuring St. Nick with a red suit and bushy white beard. These were all over department stores and greatly contributed to the way we picture old St. Nick.

  • 1931


    New York City sure loves Christmas decorations! The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is now iconic, but it wasn’t always so grand. The first one was only 20 feet tall and didn’t have any ornaments, but rather, was decorated with paper garlands, cranberries, and tin cans.

  • 1933


    Tin cans weren’t good enough, so the tree at Rockefeller got a major makeover. By 1933, it was 50 feet tall, had a variety of beautiful ornaments, and featured over 25,000 twinkling lights!

  • Mid-1930s


    By 1935, over 250 million Christmas ornaments were imported from Germany to the United States. Many of these came from Max Eckhardt, a German immigrant who worked with American glassmakers to sell his new brand, Shiny Brite, at F.W. Woolworth’s.

  • 1939 – 1945

    1939 – 1945

    Christmas may not look like it does today without World War II. American soldiers were influenced by the way the Germans celebrated the holidays. Christmas trees, stockings, ornaments, nutcrackers, tinsel, advent calendars, gingerbread, yule logs, and candy canes all come from Germany!

  • 1940s – 1950s

    1940s – 1950s

    People were going a little crazy with the Christmas spirit! For over a decade, you could buy boxes of fake snow with names like “White Magic,” “Pure White,” and “Snow Drift.” This “snow” was made using asbestos, which was obviously not safe to breathe!

  • 1950s


    Popcorn garlands were used in Victorian England. These decorations were strung through Christmas trees, placed over doorways, and used to spruce up fireplaces. Today, popcorn tins are very popular holiday gifts.

  • 1955


    The space race was on between the United States and the Soviet Union. As a result, many Christmas ornaments were made in shiny metal that looked like spaceships flying through the universe. This was a huge trend throughout the next decade.

  • 1957


    Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, published “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” This holiday classic has since inspired 3 movies and a bunch of popular Christmas decorations.

  • 1960s


    Tinsel was first used in Germany in the early 1600s, and surprisingly, it was made from real silver. It didn’t became popular for Christmas tree decorations in America until the 60s. Tinsel was seen as safer than lights since it was less likely to cause a fire.

  • 1963


    Aluminum Christmas trees came out at the height of the Vietnam War. Since these shiny silver trees were less hassle and mess than the real deal, they were very popular in U.S. households.

  • 1964


    Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer aired on NBC. This holiday classic introduced us to many beloved Christmas icons including Rudolph, the Little Drummer Boy, and the Head Elf. You’ll see these characters in many Christmas decorations at stores today.

  • 1965


    “A Charlie Brown Christmas” aired as a TV special on CBS. In the first year alone, four million copies of this movie were sold in the United States. Now the entire Peanuts gang are found in Christmas décor like ornaments, inflatables, table lights, and nativity sets.

  • 1973


    Hallmark released their first “Keepsake” ornaments. The collection included a total of 18 ornaments: 6 glass baubles and 12 yarn figures. Hallmark continues to release a limited edition ornament every year.

  • 1976


    The first miniature winter village was sold by Department 56. These ceramic Christmas decorations are still popular, and you can even find some themed after favorite holiday movies like Harry Potter, Frozen, and A Christmas Story.

  • 1979


    Pickle ornaments were imported from Germany. The founder of Old World Christmas, Tim Merck, wrote a story about hiding a pickle in the Christmas tree and letting the person who finds it open the first gift. He then made pickle ornaments to go with it, and this has been a tradition in many American households ever since!

  • 1980s


    In the song “The 12 Days of Christmas,” the true love gives the gift of seven swans at the end of the first week. If you were a kid in the 80s, you might have seen some of those swans decorating your Christmas tree!

  • Mid-1980s


    Paul Ecke Jr., a horticulturist in San Diego, grew potted poinsettias at his family’s ranch and donated a bunch to The Tonight Show and Bob Hope Christmas specials. American viewers loved the flowers and have been using them around the holidays ever since!

  • 1995


    Are you a 90s kid? Well, then you probably remember plastic snowmen, lollipops, candles, and Santa statues. These outdoor Christmas decorations were found on the front lawn in almost every neighborhood in America.

  • 1997


    Coffee lovers look forward to the new Starbucks holiday cup every year. The first time a design was released was in 1997. It was created by a graphic designer named Sandy Nelson and was available in four festive colors: magenta, sapphire, emerald, and amethyst.

  • 2001


    Giant Christmas inflatables popped up on lawns! Gemmy Industries, the same company that makes the Big Mouth Billy Bass gag gifts, started selling them from a showroom in Texas. Today, you can buy these outdoor Christmas decorations for as little as $15 to as much as $5,000.

  • 2007


    Carol Aebersold took her family tradition of hiding an elf around the house and made it a cultural phenomenon. The first Elf on the Shelf made its debut on The Today Show. It went on to be sold at retail stores all over the country and was even part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

  • 2009


    The most expensive ornament in the world was made by a British jeweler in 2009. It looks like a planet in orbit, is decorated with 1,500 tiny diamonds, and has two rings covered in 188 rubies. The National Association of Jewelers values the ornament at $130,000.

  • 2019


    Christmas gnomes invaded stores! These tiny, bearded men, who are based on European folklore, are very trendy. They can be found on ornaments, cookie jars, wrapping paper, coffee mugs, ugly sweaters, plush toys, and ceramic plates.

  • 2020


    Spirits were low during the COVID-19 pandemic, but people still put on their face masks and bought more decorations than ever before. In fact, sales on Christmas lights alone were up 194% from the previous year. Everyone needed that extra holiday cheer!

History of Christmas Decorations

When Were Christmas Decorations First Used? Source:

When Were Christmas Decorations First Used?

When Were Christmas Decorations First Used? Source:

Christmas decorations can be traced back to over 2,500 years ago in ancient Rome. During a pagan festival called Saturnalia, homes were decorated in wreaths and evergreen boughs, and a giant feast was held where gifts were offered to the gods.

We may not offer dolls, candles, and caged birds to gods in order to live through winter, but many customs from Saturnalia are still found in our Christmas celebrations today. This includes lighting up trees, putting wreaths on our door, and drinking way too much eggnog!

Who Invented Christmas Decorations?

Whether it’s hanging a wreath on the front door or threading a string of lights through the tree, there are many ways to celebrate the holidays. Here is a fascinating history of some of your favorite Christmas decorations!

Christmas Trees

Christmas Trees

Historians aren’t sure where exactly the Christmas tree came from, but most point to pagan traditions in Germany. The story goes that a missionary sacrificed a giant “holy tree” to the god, Thor. As a nod to this lore, Germans would set up trees in their homes and decorate them with candles. When Christianity took over in the 16th century, the Germans rebranded the trees as “paradise trees” and decorated them with apples.



You hang a stocking on the fireplace every Christmas because of a poem by Clement Clarke Moore. Published in 1823, this popular piece references St. Nick filling all the stockings and then rising up the chimney.



Ancient Romans hung wreaths to celebrate a winter festival known as Saturnalia. Some sources also believe that wreaths were used to countdown the four weeks before Christmas in medieval Germany.

Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights

Thomas Edison invented outdoor Christmas lights as a way to show his holiday spirit. He hung the twinkling lights right outside of his laboratory, so passengers on the train outside of his lab could see the display at night. Edison’s protegee, Edward Johnson, created the first string lights a few years later.

Gingerbread Houses

Gingerbread Houses

You probably have heard the fairy tale, “Hansel & Gretel.” This German story is part of the reason why we decorate gingerbread houses for the holidays. The other inspiration is monks in 13th century Germany who made gingerbread cookies known as Lebkuchen.



During World War II, Americans stationed in Germany had to buy Christmas gifts from local shops to send back home. One of the most popular gifts was nutcrackers, and they’ve since been favorites for the holiday season.

Candy Canes

Candy Canes

The candy cane is an old-fashioned treat that comes from Germany. As the story goes, a choirmaster in Cologne handed out these sugar sticks to young singers so they’d be quiet during religious ceremonies. He shaped them like canes as a nod to shepherds.

Inflatable Christmas Decorations

Inflatable Christmas Decorations

Decorate your front yard with giant inflatables! These outdoor Christmas decorations seem to have popped up out of nowhere, but they have actually been around for over 20 years. A Texas company called Gemmy Industries was the first to create a Christmas inflatable – an 8-foot-tall Santa Claus.

Advent Calendars

Advent Calendars

Do you love chocolate? Mark down the days until Christmas with an advent calendar. Like many holiday traditions, these calendars originated in Germany in the mid to late 19th century. They were used by the Christian church to mark each Sunday from the feast day of Saint Andrew (November 30th) to Christmas Day.



Greenery has been associated with Christmastime since ancient times. The Romans decorated with wreaths, holly, and garland, while the Celtic Druids hung up mistletoes with white berries as a sign of fertility. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe likely comes from the Middle Ages where it was first observed among servants in England.



With their pretty red and green foliage, poinsettias are the perfect flowers for Christmas. They were first used to decorate a nativity scene in Mexico, but quickly became bestsellers in the U.S thanks to a gardener named Paul Ecke Jr. He donated the poinsettias from his family ranch to Bob Hope Christmas specials and The Tonight Show.

Snow Globes

Snow Globes

Edwin Perzy accidentally invented snow globes while trying to improve the brightness of a light bulb. He poured a white powder known as semolina into the glass and noticed it looked like snow falling. Rather than throw it all away, he started a company – Vienna Snow Globes.

What is the History of Santa?

What is the History of Santa?

What is the History of Santa?

The story of Santa goes back to Saint Nicholas of Myra (now present day Turkey). He was a Christian bishop who gave presents to needy children.

Saint Nicholas become Santa gradually over time. There were three big events that sealed his fate as “Father Christmas:”

A Visit From St. Nicholas is Published (1823)

“A Visit From St. Nicholas” is Published (1823)

After Clement Clarke Moore published the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” in 1823, the religious figure started being associated with Christmas. He was renamed Santa, given reindeer, and come down the chimney to hand out gifts.

Thomas Nast Drew Santa for Harper’s Weekly (1883)

Thomas Nast Drew Santa for Harper’s Weekly (1883)

A cartoonist named Thomas Nast drew St. Nicholas for his poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Nast’s most famous illustration, published in Harper’s Weekly in 1883, showed Santa in a festive red suit with a pipe and a sack of toys on his back.

Coca-Cola Published Santa Ads (1930s)

Coca-Cola Published Santa Ads (1930s)

In the 1930s, Haddon Sundblum drew Santa with a fluffy white beard and rosy cheeks for Coca-Cola ads. The soft drink brand continued to use him to advertise during the holidays and even printed him on promotional products like calendars, metal signs, and of course, ornaments.

All of these events contributed to how we picture Santa. If it weren’t for the Moore’s poem, Nast’s illustration, and Sundblum’s ads, we might have a very different idea of Kris Kringle.

What is the Story Behind Christmas Characters?

Santa is the ultimate symbol of Christmas, but let’s visit the North Pole to learn the history of other popular characters!

Mrs. Claus

Mrs. Claus

The first time Mrs. Claus was mentioned was in “A Christmas Legend,” an 1849 short story by James Rees. Since then, she is often depicted as a plump, cheerful woman who always has a mug of hot cocoa waiting for Santa.



In European folklore, elves were depicted as tiny beings with magical powers. Scandinavian writers paired them with Santa in the early 19th century, but they didn’t really become part of Christmas until 1873. This was thanks to an illustration of the workshop on the front cover of a magazine called Godey’s Lady Book.



Santa couldn’t fly his sleigh without his nine reindeer. Reindeer are native to arctic, subarctic, tundra, and mountain regions in North America and Europe, making them a natural fit for the winter holidays. The association with Christmas was forever cemented with the publication of the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” in 1823.



Michelangelo may have painted the Sistine Chapel, but his real masterpiece was building the first snowman! Cosimo de’ Medici, the ruler of Florence, asked 19-year-old Michelangelo to sculpt a snowman in his mansion’s courtyard in 1492. Building snowmen has since been a favorite winter pastime!

Little Drummer Boy

Little Drummer Boy

Jack Halloran recorded the song “Little Drummer Boy” in 1957, and it has went on to become a beloved song for the holidays. The Little Drummer Boy himself has also become a popular Christmas character and even made an appearance in 1964’s stop-motion classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.



The Grinch may be a “bad banana with a greasy black peel,” but he has a special place in our hearts. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss in 1957. Less than 10 years later, the 26-minute cartoon adaptation aired on CBS.

Ebenezer Scrooge

Ebenezer Scrooge

Charles Dickens wrote about Ebenezer Scrooge in 1843. In the famous “A Christmas Carol,” this miserly old man hates Christmas because it disrupts his business. Scrooge is visited by three ghosts who teach him to value love and friendship and find the true meaning of the holidays.

Christmas Gnomes

Christmas Gnomes

Gnomes have left the garden and are now part of our holiday celebrations! These little bearded gents go back to Scandinavian folklore where they lived under the house to protect children from evil or misfortune. They also happen to look like mini Santas!

You see these characters in movies, books, TV shows, and songs. They’re also found in ornaments, Christmas cookies, and ugly sweaters. The holidays wouldn’t be the same without them!

History of Ornaments

Who Invented the Ornament?

Who Invented the Ornament?

Who Invented the Ornament?

Christmas baubles were handcrafted in Germany by a glass artisan named Hans Greiner in the mid-19th century. These were the first manufactured Christmas ornaments in the world.

Glass blowing was a family business for Hans Greiner. After inheriting Lauscha Glassworks from his great great great grandfather, he took sales to the next level by making Christmas ornaments.

These early glass ornaments were made using molds and glass blowing. With the molds, it was possible to make unique shapes. Fruits and nuts were the shape of choice since, before ornaments, these foods had been used by Germans to decorate their Christmas trees.

When Did Christmas Ornaments Come to America?

Glass ornaments were brought to the U.S. by German immigrants in the 19th century. They became extremely popular after F.W. Woolworth started selling them in the late 1880s.

When Did Christmas Ornaments Come to America?

Frank Woolworth loved the ornaments he saw in Germany and wanted to start selling them at his store. He recruited the help of a German immigrant named Max Eckardt who worked with Corning Glass Works (the same company that makes Pyrex storage containers) to create exclusive ornaments for Woolworth’s. By the mid-1930s, Shiny Brite ornaments were available for purchase.

Demand was high for the ornaments at Woolworth’s. To keep up, Eckhardt used injection molding to create shapes like animals, flowers, fruit, and most popularly, Santa Claus faces. At the end of the decade, Americans had spent $25 million on ornaments at Woolworth’s.

When Was the First Hallmark Ornament Made?

When Was the First Hallmark Ornament Made?

When Was the First Hallmark Ornament Made?

Hallmark sold the first Keepsake ornaments in 1973. The collection that year featured six glass balls and twelve yarn figurines. Since then, Hallmark has released over 8,500 Christmas ornaments as part of the Keepsake series.

Did You Know?

The Keepsake Ornament Club was started in 1987. This group gives fans a sneak peek at the new ornaments that will be released in the upcoming year.

A Brief History of Christmas Advertising

A Brief History of Christmas Advertising

A Brief History of Christmas Advertising

After Coca-Cola used Santa Claus in commercials in the 1930s, it became big business for companies to advertise with traditional holiday imagery. Hershey turned their Kisses into jingle bells, M&M’s came out with an iconic commercial also starring St. Nick, and Oreo, Kellogg’s, and other food companies started releasing temporary holiday themed products.

It also became popular to advertise on custom ornaments, stockings, and other Christmas decorations. Just look at these adorable Starbucks to-go cups that were sold at select stores in 2016. Coffee lovers everywhere hung these on the tree and were reminded of the chain’s delicious peppermint mochas!

Why Do We Love Christmas Decorations?

Why Do We Love Christmas Decorations?

Why Do We Love Christmas Decorations?

According to psychologists, we experience an increase in dopamine when we decorate for the holidays. Our brains are hard-wired to feel joy and associate positive feelings and memories to Christmas trees, stockings on the fireplace, and twinkling outdoor lights.

Stats for Success

Stats for Success

The average American spends 11% of their holiday budget on Christmas decorations.

Stats for Success

An estimated 25 to 30 million Christmas trees are sold in the United States every year.

Stats for Success

There world record for the largest collection of Christmas ornaments belongs to Sylvia Pope. She has 1,760 ornaments!

Stats for Success

Over 150 million strings of Christmas lights are hung up in the United States every year.

The Bottom Line

The history of Christmas decorations involves pagan traditions, Christian doctrine, winter festivals, and trips to Germany. You may not have warm, fuzzy memories of the holidays without all of this influence. Share these facts with your family and friends over eggnog and fruitcake this holiday season!


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