24 September 2004

Trim Up the Tree

Do old photos intrigue you, especially those of old Christmas trees and decorations? Are those old-fashioned cornucopias and candle holders on the branches an invitation to more investigation? Wouldn't you like to step into those old parlors and meet the little girls with corkscrew curls and little boys in Buster Brown outfits and look at their tabletop trees and floor-to-ceiling beauties, covered with kugel, Dresdens, bead ornaments and wax babies?

Impossible, of course. The next best thing is Robert Brenner's Christmas Past.

Having seen most collectors' books, I can attest that, unless you are looking for prices, they're pretty dull. Oh, if you have a volume that has old colored photos of something you're interested in, the attraction factor increases, but it's still a glorified price book.

Brenner's book isn't. Instead, it's a history of the Christmas tree and its decorations and lights (candles and electric). After a chapter on the origin of the tree tradition and some reminisces from people who remembered seeing their first trees, or decorating their first trees with popcorn and cranberries and tatted doilies, each chapter is a detailed (in small print, no less) examination of each type of ornament from the glass-blown kugels (a history of Thuringia, where the glassblowers plied their trade, is included) to cotton confections to wire and bead creations to wax babies made in the form or angels or Jesus, and even more. The chapters on lighting the Christmas tree are particularly fascinating--and finally, an explanation of why early electric strings were called "Mazda lights" (named after the Babylonian god of light)!

This detailed examination of all things ornamental and lucent is accompanied by pages and pages of color and black and white photos of the different objects, old-time rooms decorated for the holidays, and old advertisements going back to the 1800s for the various ornaments and lights. It is the definitive book about old Christmas trimmings.

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