For a long time Germany headed the list of major producers of Christmas ornaments. From 1875 to the beginning of the Second World War, Germany provided a goodly share of the decorations for Canadian Christmas trees. Other producers included Austria, the United States, Japan, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Canada.

The first glass ornaments were kugels, a kind of glass ball intended to protect houses against evil spirits. These were produced at Lauscha in Germany around 1830. The shape of kugels and other Christmas balls remind us of the red apples, which decorate the tree of Paradise.

For a long time Germany headed the list of major producers of Christmas ornaments. From 1875 to the beginning of the Second World War, Germany provided a goodly share of the decorations for Canadian Christmas trees. Other producers included Austria, the United States, Japan, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Canada.

The first glass ornaments were kugels, a kind of glass ball intended to protect houses against evil spirits. These were produced at Lauscha in Germany around 1830. The shape of kugels and other Christmas balls remind us of the red apples, which decorate the tree of Paradise.


© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Contemporary Christmas balls

Blown glass ball portraying imaginary and abstract designs, decorated with different coloured enamels. The second is in white-enamelled ceramic, embellished with flowers and leaves hand-painted with a cobalt oxide glaze.

Photograph: Musée de la civilisation, Pierre Soulard, 1995
Collection : Musée de la civilisation, Québec, Canada, nos. 91-807 and 91-

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Using small candles to light up the Christmas tree dates back to the middle of the XVIIth century. The custom was only really firmly established, however, at the beginning of the XIXth century in Germany and soon after in the Slavic countries of Eastern Europe.

The first candles were glued with wax or pinned to the end of the tree branches. Little lanterns and small candleholders then appeared to make putting up the tapers easier. Candleholders with clips appeared around 1890. Glass balls and lanterns were created between 1902 and 1914.
The first time a Christmas tree was lit by electricity was in 1882 in New York. Edward Johnson, a colleague of Thomas Edison, lit a Christmas tree with a string of 80 small electric light bulbs, which he had made himself. These strings of light began to be produced around 1890. One of the first electrically lit Christmas trees was erected in Westmount, Quebec in 1896. In 1900, some large stores put up large illuminated trees to attract customers.

Once begun, the custom spread in Canada wherever electricity came to towns and the countryside. Because of the risk of fire, trees were not usually put up until December 24. T Read More
Using small candles to light up the Christmas tree dates back to the middle of the XVIIth century. The custom was only really firmly established, however, at the beginning of the XIXth century in Germany and soon after in the Slavic countries of Eastern Europe.

The first candles were glued with wax or pinned to the end of the tree branches. Little lanterns and small candleholders then appeared to make putting up the tapers easier. Candleholders with clips appeared around 1890. Glass balls and lanterns were created between 1902 and 1914.
The first time a Christmas tree was lit by electricity was in 1882 in New York. Edward Johnson, a colleague of Thomas Edison, lit a Christmas tree with a string of 80 small electric light bulbs, which he had made himself. These strings of light began to be produced around 1890. One of the first electrically lit Christmas trees was erected in Westmount, Quebec in 1896. In 1900, some large stores put up large illuminated trees to attract customers.

Once begun, the custom spread in Canada wherever electricity came to towns and the countryside. Because of the risk of fire, trees were not usually put up until December 24. This technical innovation altered the custom since it was now possible to put the tree up earlier and leave it up longer, until the day before Epiphany.

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Strings of Lights

The fashion for illuminated Christmas trees became widespread in Canada mainly during the 1950's. Department stores used to offer multicoloured strings of lights and other Christmas tree decorations in their Christmas catalogues as this page from the Christmas Catalogue of the Simpsons- Sears Company of Toronto illustrates.

Photograph: Musée de la civilisation, Pierre Soulard, 1995
Collection : Musée de la civilisation, Québec, Canada

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Contemporary Christmas tree

Finial in the shape of a crown, Christmas balls in bright colours and other hanging ornaments decorate this Christmas tree with a modern air. At the base of the tree, a white rug imitates snow to welcome plush teddies, tiny figures and Christmas gifts.

Photograph: Benoît Paquet, Sainte-Foy, Canada, 1991

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


North America gave the traditional Christmas tree a new look with the invention of strings of electric lights. As early as 1912, the first illuminated trees appeared in Boston’s public areas. Outdoor Christmas trees quickly became commonplace in North America. After the First World War, this novelty reached Europe and became widespread towards the middle of the XXth century.

Towards the end of the XIXth century, another variation of the traditional Christmas tree also appeared on the market: the artificial tree. The earliest came from Germany and were made of metal wire and goose or turkey feathers died green to imitate pine needles. Between 1900 and 1950, huge trees of ostrich or swan feathers intended for hotels, stores and the houses of the wealthy were manufactured.

In Canada, the fashion of the illuminated outdoor tree is very widespread. The winter climate with its combination of dark nights and white snow contrasts with the cheerfulness of the multicoloured decorations. In the suburbs, there are almost as many Christmas trees outside as there are inside.

Throughout Alberta there are only a few hours of sunlight when the Read More

North America gave the traditional Christmas tree a new look with the invention of strings of electric lights. As early as 1912, the first illuminated trees appeared in Boston’s public areas. Outdoor Christmas trees quickly became commonplace in North America. After the First World War, this novelty reached Europe and became widespread towards the middle of the XXth century.

Towards the end of the XIXth century, another variation of the traditional Christmas tree also appeared on the market: the artificial tree. The earliest came from Germany and were made of metal wire and goose or turkey feathers died green to imitate pine needles. Between 1900 and 1950, huge trees of ostrich or swan feathers intended for hotels, stores and the houses of the wealthy were manufactured.

In Canada, the fashion of the illuminated outdoor tree is very widespread. The winter climate with its combination of dark nights and white snow contrasts with the cheerfulness of the multicoloured decorations. In the suburbs, there are almost as many Christmas trees outside as there are inside.

Throughout Alberta there are only a few hours of sunlight when the year arrives at the winter solstices. Clear sky and a cover of fresh snow provide the backdrop for the festive use of decorative lights. The ancient northern European use of light and fire in the month of Yule, and the medieval Christian play on these images, echo in the most convivial of Alberta’s civil feasts.

In one of Edmonton’s wealthier districts the neighbours out-do each other decorating their homes on a street that has come to be called "Candy-cane Lane." On Christmas Day and Boxing Day the destitute and homeless of Edmonton are served a festive meal. Some churches also reach out to the public and invite them in for a Christmas spectacle.


© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.

Candy-Cane Lane, Edmonton

The homes and yards of one of Edmonton's communities has developed since the 1970's, into a Christmas spectacle with elaborate decorations. Many families use thousands of lights in their displays based on the various figures and motifs associated with Christmas. During the holiday, many people move through Candy-Cane Lane is a quiet convivial procession enjoying the winter light.

Photo : David J. Goa, 1994
Collection: Folklife Collections, Provincial Museum of Alberta, Edmonton

© 1995, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Identify how people, events, and ideas of the past shape the present;
  • Describe some Christmas traditions in Canada, with examples;
  • Compare Christmas traditions between cultures, and over time;
  • Recognize that material history and popular culture are illustrations of historical change.

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