The origin of Christmas decorations

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Decorations are mentioned in ancient descriptions of the Roman feast of Saturnalia, which is thought to have originated in the 5th century BC.

Some 900 years later, a Christian bishop in Turkey wrote disapprovingly about members of his congregation who were drinking, feasting, dancing and crowning their doors with decorations in a pagan fashion at this time of year.

Greenery was cheap and perhaps for that reason is not mentioned in descriptions of domestic decorations from medieval Europe.

Aristocratic households preferred to display their wealth by bringing out their best tapestries, jewels and gold platters.

Wax candles were another form of conspicuous consumption, as well as a nod to religious significance.

But descriptions of Christmas festivities well into the 17th century focus on the decoration of the person rather than the house. Strange costumes, masks, role-reversing clothes and face-painting are all repeatedly mentioned.

In the following century, Christmas celebrations became a matter of heated argument between reformers and traditionalists, with the reformers attacking what they saw as pagan revelries.

Lighting up.
Alongside these came paper garlands and decorative Christmas stockings, as well as painted tin toys.

Another idea which started in Germany was tinsel. This was originally fine, sparkling strips of silver, but was later mass-produced first in cheaper metals, and then plastic.

Today, of course, plastic is widely out of favour. As a result, perhaps we will see a further reinvention of our Christmas decorations and traditions which, from a historical perspective, is a tradition in itself.

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