For many, a garland is the finishing touch to the decorated Christmas tree.
But how did that garland actually get there, how does the use of decorative garlands wind through the history of the Christmas tree?
The history of the Christmas garland begins in 1610 in Nürnberg when Anthony Fournier starts a small factory to manufacture Leonian thread. Leonic wire is thin wire of copper, gold plated or silver plated and twisted in such a way as to create a decorative spiral shape. The origin of this thread is a bit shrouded in mystery. Some suspect its origin in the Spanish city of Leon, others place it rather in the French Lyon. Be that as it may, the wire became very popular and widely used as a decorative element in trimmings, jewelry and household items. At the end of the 19th century it was also embraced by the glassblowers of Christmas baubles. They used the wire to decorate Christmas ornaments, to connect figures to each other and thus make composite Christmas ornaments.
However, the Christmas ornaments industry also found a new application for the Leonic thread. By making it slightly thicker, the so-called 'lamettas' were created. Long strands resembling very thin tinfoil, which were draped in large quantities over the branches of the Christmas tree, literally creating a glittering effect that mimicked the twinkle of an icicle.
In 1904 the German Eppsteiner Stanniolfabrik (today still existing under the name Eppsteinfoils) obtained an imperial patent for the manufacture of Lamettas. The name is derived from the Latin word lama which means 'metal leaf'. The Eppsteiner factory had specialized in flat rolling aluminum (stanniol) and tin into thin sheets since the end of the nineteenth century. Now this tin foil was cut into thin strips and marketed as Christmas tree decorations. The lamettas, made of flattened tin and sometimes weighted with lead, hung down nicely and could easily be folded around the branches of the Christmas tree due to their somewhat heavier quality. Removing it was also not difficult and made reuse possible. Nowadays, the lametta’sare made of a light type of aluminum or sometimes even plastic, so that they no longer hang down as smoothly as they used to and can be removed from the Christmas tree only with great difficulty.
Lamettas became extremely popular in the 1950s and 60s in the United States, where they are called 'tinsel', derived from the French word 'étincelles' which literally means 'sparks'.
The composite garland as we most commonly encounter today emerged from the original lametta. Thin strips of silver foil twisted around each other, which can then be draped much more easily in the tree like a long garland. The colored garlands were the start of an unprecedented trend in the 1950s and 1960s in the US. At that time, foldable artificial Christmas trees were made in Chicago from colored aluminum. Christmas in those years was quite a glittering and colorful spectacle down there in the Midwest. The Evergleam model was perhaps the most popular. A brightly colored space-age artificial Christmas tree on a rotating base and decorated with brightly colored Christmas balls. The aluminum Christmas tree trend died a quiet death in the mid-1960s. It was none other than Charlie Brown who took care of that. In "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1965), Lucy sends Charlie to buy the brightest aluminum Christmas tree and paint it pink. But Charlie didn't like a commercial Christmas tree. He came home with a real tree and turned American sentiment back toward a real Christmas tree, traditionally decorated. 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' heralded the end of aluminum Christmas trees. Today, the space-age aluminum Christmas trees are a real collector's item.
The love for color, for tinsel, lamettas and sparkle is now also reflected in the retro-Christmas trend. In the Eppsteinerfoil factory, the last machine that still made lamettas in the old-fashioned way, had gathered a bit of dust in recent years, but nowadays there are more German companies that have rediscovered the tradition of decoration with lamettas and have resumed production.
But the Christmas tree garland also has a different shape than that of thinly colored aluminum. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the glassblowers also made mini Christmas balls, which were then strung like beads in long strands. These garlands were not only draped horizontally around the tips of the branches as a kind of garland. Often several garlands were hung vertically from the top or from the ends of the branches. This in turn caused the icicle effect, just like with lamettas or tinsels.
Charlie Brown opted for a natural Christmas tree in 1965, decorated it with his friends in a traditional way and if you look closely at the film, you can see that Charlie Brown also did not forget the garland. The Christmas tree garland has been an evergreen since the early 1900s.
You can watch parts of the movie 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' here: