Why Are Your Christmas Cookie Cutters Shaped That Way?
How did some of today's most popular Christmas Designs get started?
One of my favorite things to do when growing up was to make salt dough ornaments. It only took a few ingredients, a few cookie cutters, and a little paint. (after they were baked, of course.)
When I started this tradition with my first daughter,
I dug through my box of cookie cutters and handed her the traditional snowman, gingerbread man, tree, and bell shaped cutters.
She insisted on creating the not-so-traditional dinosaur, cat, footprint, heart, and butterfly shaped ornaments.
Hardly traditional (but still cute on the tree!). But it made me wonder...why do we have certain Christmas shapes anyhow?
The Christmas tree, despite it's popularity now, is a relatively new tradition. At least, in the sense of being a decorated centerpiece.
Using evergreen branches to decorate the home for Winter Solstice goes way back in history. Not only was the greenery thought to protect the home from evil, it represented the promise of the future fertility of both people and crops.
The use of a decorated Christmas trees began sometime in the 16th century in Germany. The first tree displayed in America belonged to German settlers.
Before this, the New England Puritans banned all decorations and celebrations for Christmas.
This shunning of all but the most serious observation of the holiday was America's first true Christmas tradition, with Christmas trees being very rare until the mid 1800's.
Still, it took awhile before trees were fully accepted by Americans, who still perceived them to be pagan.
Queen Victoria popularized the Christmas tree in Great Britain, and like most trends of the Victorian era, the love of trees and other Christmas decoration quickly spread to America.
The first trees were most often decorated with edible items. Fruit, nuts, hard candy, cakes, hard breads, and similar treats were popular, as were strands of popcorn. Sometimes cloth bags, paper cones or other holders were made to hold candy and treats.
Candles were added to the trees to create light, and in Victorian homes, women and children might make fancy paper ornaments. Trinkets for the tree might also be sewn, embroidered, crocheted, netted (lace), or painted.
By the beginning of the 20th century, trees had finally become an American tradition, as are ornaments, decorations, cookie cutters and greeting cards featuring trees.
Anything that hangs on a tree can be called an ornament. However, the standard glass balls and baubles we know so well today have their own special history.
Manufactured glass hasn't been around that long, the first glass ornaments had to be hand-blown. That meant they weren't widely available, and they were probably pretty pricey.
Since the majority of the tree's decor was either food (such as candy, nuts, and gingerbread men) or handmade trinkets, a few glass balls were a fancy touch that could be passed down as heirlooms.
Before glass ornaments, there were also ornaments made of tin, clay, and wood. The first just-for-trees glass ornaments supposedly originated in Lauscha, Germany where artisans would painstakingly create each bauble.
Interestingly, the first glass molds used to create glass ornaments were shaped like...fruit! (Probably because that's what people associated with fashionable tree decor at the time. So reusable fruit makes sense.)
These ornaments were adored by Queen Victoria, who first decorated her beloved tree with them in 1832. It would be the 1870's before glass ornaments were manufactured in America.
Today, millions of ornaments are sold in stores. You can buy anything from the very traditional lacquered apple...to the more modern, glitter-covered, hot-pink stiletto shoe!
Now, 2-D designs of the traditional Christmas ball are often printed on cards, wrapping paper, other ornaments, and decor. And of course, there is usually an ornament shaped cookie cutter in your box.
Modern Santa Claus has his roots firmly planted in the past as well as the present. He is one of the most popular images to be seen on anything from ornaments to wrapping paper.
History disagrees a bit on how Santa Claus or St. Nick, first got started. The most widely accepted modern view is that he is based on St. Nicholas of Myra. However the modern tradition also has roots in the much older legends of Odin as well.
St. Nick certainly got his start in the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands. To begin with, St. Nicholas did not visit on Christmas day, but rather on his own Saint's day of December 6th. Christmas Day was a different celebration, a tradition that is still strong in some countries.
In England, the figure of Father Christmas was popular during the 16th century. Later, he would merge with St. Nicholas and others to create the American image of Santa. Originally, he was portrayed wearing green robes. Not a red suit.
A parody of Dutch culture written by Washington Irving, followed by the now epic "Night Before Christmas" poem solidified the image of Santa Claus as a joyful, magical old man with a sackful of toys.
As Santa became more popular during the 1800's, writers, poets and artists all contributed to his image. Whatever they seemed to imagine about him, (from his flying reindeer to his home in the North Pole) seemed to stick and delight people everywhere, creating the magical figure we know so well today.
What tree would be complete without these colorful, somewhat sticky candy hooks? Most of us love to look at candy canes on the tree, though I know very few people who actually eat them!
Still, candy canes have been around since the 1600's, and also came from Germany.
Whether or not it is true, legend says that a spiritual leader began the tradition of giving candy canes to children to keep them quite during Christmas sermons. After that they were often handed out as favors during Christmas plays, possible because they resembled the shepherd's crooks.
The first mention of candy canes hung from Christmas trees was in 1882, and today candy canes and candy cane stripes are both a fun and elegant decor choice.
Christmas wouldn't be the same without Jingle Bells, would it? These cheery noisemakers didn't start out being cheery though.
Bells were first used to ward off evil spirits and bad luck, both of which were thought to be more prevalent during the dark winter months.
Later they were added to Christmas celebrations, as churches began ringing bells for celebratory occasions. Once that happened, people began carrying bells when they went wassailing and caroling.
Since then, bells have become one of the most traditional images in Christmas decor. And almost set of holiday cookie cutters will include one!
According to historians, making snowmen has been a favorite winter past time of humans since long before the Middle Ages.
Since humans love the make images of themselves, they have probably been building snowmen for much longer. But of course, we will never know...because unlike clay or marble, snow doesn't last very long!
Before 'Frosty the Snowman' became a celebrity in the 1950's, snowmen were associated with the entire winter season and all of it's festivities, not just Christmas.
Today, snowmen decorations are usually packed up at the same time as the Santas and candy canes, although some people will leave winter-themed decor out until Valentine's.
Nutcracker figurines are practically a Christmas staple, and most people love them because they love the ballet that made them so popular.
But these handy wooden tools were around before Clara and the Mouse King were ever dreamed up.
In fact, nutcrackers of various shapes and styles were made centuries before the wooden solider design, starting with plain old rocks back in the BC ages, and spiffier bronze designs used in Ancient Greece and Rome.
Metal nutcrackers shaped much like pliers were more popular than carved wooden nutcrackers for a long time. Wooden nutcrackers were more of a novelty used during the holidays, since they weren't as practical as the many handheld designs.
The nutcracker we know from the epic Christmas ballet was only first born in 1816, in a story written by E.T.A. Hoffman called the "Nutcracker and the Mouse King". In the original version, the girl's name is Marie, not Clara.
The story was adapted by Alexander Dumas pére, and was adapted again by Tchaikovsky into the ballet. It was first performed in 1892 and was not popular at all--mostly because it featured a child as the main character.
In fact, it didn't really become that well liked until it reached the US for the first time in the 1940's! The story had everything that Americans of that time loved, and that love has been passed down through the generations.
And of course, the nutcracker dolls became super popular too, though I believe it is rare for one to every be used for actually opening those roasted chestnuts.
Make Your Own Christmas Ornaments
Salt Dough Recipe
Great news! You probably have the ingredients for salt clay in your kitchen right now!
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup salt
- 2 Tblspoons vegetable oil
- Hot water
Blend salt and flour in a bowl using a fork to ensure even distribution. Next, add your vegetable oil and work into the flour.
Begin adding a hot water a few spoonfuls at a time, while stirring your dough. You want it to resemble Play Doh.
If it is too sticky, add more flour. If too dry, add more water. Knead with your hands to build up elasticity.
A little cooking spray added to the outside of the bowl can further help with kneading. Not too much though...you don't want super gooey dough!
Once the dough is workable, you can roll it on a lightly floured surface and cut with cookie cutters.
Use a round glass to create "ornament" shapes. Use a drinking straw to cut out a hole for a hanger.
Once the shapes are cut, bake at 200 degrees in a conventional oven until dried and hard.
Paint and enjoy! To keep these from drawing moisture, I recommend two coats of Krylon clear coat over your paint. This also makes them shiny!
Oh, and we still don't know why cats are not a major Christmas tradition. Too bad. They look cute in ugly sweaters!
(And even though they might appear on our tree, dinosaurs and footprints have yet to become traditional holiday shapes either.)
Sharesies: What is your favorite Christmas shape?