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A Guide to Christmas Tree Ornaments


Every year at Christmastime, we bring out boxes of brightly colored Christmas ornaments. But as you decorate, do you ever stop to wonder: Why do we put ornaments on a Christmas tree?

The Christmas tree itself originated in Germany. The first trees were decorated with natural materials like nuts and strings of berries. Soon, people began to add paper ornaments and candles. Eventually, German glass blowers started making colored ball ornaments. In addition to blown glass ornaments, glass artists began to mold glass into familiar shapes like fruits and nuts, birds and other religious and seasonal symbols.

German immigrants brought their Christmas customs with them to the United States, along with their decorative Christmas ornaments. Within decades, German-style Christmas ornaments became so popular that annual sales at Woolworth’s Department Store reached $25 million a year, inspiring other American manufacturers to produce their own designs. 

Ornament Styles

Today, Christmas ornaments come in hundreds of shapes and sizes, and in every color imaginable. In addition to traditional motifs, new designs are introduced every year. There are Santas and snowmen, angels and nutcracker ornaments. There are ornaments representing trains and other modes of transportation, popular movies and animated characters. In fact, you can find an ornament to represent just about every interest, hobby or occupation.

Here is a review of the top Christmas ornament shapes.

Glass Balls

silver glass ball ornamentSimple Christmas ball ornaments remain the most common and most popular style. Although traditionally made of glass, you’re just as likely to find brightly colored plastic and durable shatterproof ornaments. Many Christmas balls are sold in sets, sometimes in graduated sizes. They may have shiny, matte, glittered or lustered finishes, in a single color or multicolored. 

Finial Ornaments

rose glass finial Christmas ornamentA finial is a decorative embellishment on the peak of a building. Early on, glassblowers began to copy these ornate architectural elements in glass. Large glass finials traditionally were used as tree toppers, but today you can find smaller finial ornaments that are designed to hang on Christmas tree branches. 

Similar to finials, you can find pendant ornaments in teardrop shapes, as well as fancier elongated styles. 

Traditional Reflector Ornaments

pink retro reflector ornamentAs Christmas tree lights grew more popular, designers found ways to enhance their sparkle and shine. Vintage and retro reflector ornaments typically are round or teardrop shaped with a faceted concave depression on one or both sides, to reflect colorful Christmas lights.

Mercury Glass Ornaments

gold mercury glass style Christmas ornamentOriginal mercury glass ornaments were lined with elemental mercury, for a mirror-like finish. Today, the silver appearance is created using other materials, but the signature look is still treasured by Christmas tree trimmers. Modern mercury glass ornaments often feature a characteristic bright silver finish. Others have a somewhat tarnished look similar to vintage mercury glass ornaments.

Traditional Christmas Ornaments

Christopher Radko snowman ornamentIn addition to round, oblong and pendant shapes, Christmas ornaments come in a variety of designs. You can find Christmas ornaments made to resemble many traditional symbols of the holiday and winter season, including fruits, candy, stars, snowflakes, snowmen, pinecones, birds and bells.

You can also find ornaments to complement any interest or theme, from nativity and religious ornaments to elves, fairies and gnomes. Look for nutcracker ornaments, Santa Claus ornaments – even traditional pickle ornaments! (They’re a story all their own.) 

Many families collect and cherish their Christmas ornaments through the years and pass them down through generations. 

Whether you own a beloved collection of vintage ornaments or a box of shiny, new Christmas baubles, an array of ornaments is sure to feature prominently in your holiday decorating scheme.

Take a peek at our latest Christmas ornament selection. Ornaments make great gifts – and there always seems to be room on the tree for just one more!

And check out our Resources page for answers to many other Christmas-related questions.

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