Originally trees were table-top size, but by the end of the century they stood from floor-to-ceiling.
Children helped to make the decorations, stringing popcorn and cranberry garland. They made paper chain flowers and set up nativity scenes.
The decorations were elaborate with tiny hand-dipped candles, gingerbread men, cookies, and marzipan candies. Paper cornucopias hung from the branches filled with fruit, nuts, and sweets. There were paper fans and angels, crocheted snowflakes, mittens, tin soldiers, whistles and wind-up toys.
Later in the century hand-blown glass balls, called kugels were imported from Germany along with Dresdens, cardboard painted in gold, silver and copper, to look like metal. They were usually done in the shapes of animals, birds, fish, ships, trains, and trolley cars.
On the top of the tree was a Christmas doll, or a Nuremberg angel with a skirt of spun glass, a crinkled gold skirt and a wax face.
When I wrote my holiday novella, Another Waltz, I tried to capture some of that Christmas magic and transport it onto the page. Here is an excerpt from Another Waltz.
****Squinting, Madeline peered around the branches of the large Christmas tree, which filled the back corner of the ballroom.
Hoping to avoid the prying eyes of Lucille’s guests, Madeline had just stepped through the servants’ door and sidled along the back wall until she’d reached the wide boughs of the twelve foot Douglas Fir.
Red and gold ribbons, strings of popcorn and cranberries, all twined around the tree. Paper angels and cornucopias hung from the many branches. Silver and gold Dresdens in shapes of animals and trains filled the empty spaces, and hand-blown, glass ornaments from Germany had been clipped to the tree, each holding a candle, their tiny flames flickering like stars among the branches.
She focused her gaze on the blurry rainbow of beautiful gowns swirling across the floor. The gentlemen, austere in their dark tail coats with splotches of white waistcoats and shirts, partnered the perfect complement to the ladies’ finery. Garland of evergreens, ivy, dried flowers, and red bows festooned the large windows, doorways, and picture frames.
Stringed music floated from the raised platform at the north end of the ballroom to mingle with the laughter and conversation of more than seventy guests.