For anyone who celebrates Christmas, or embraces seasonal decorating, there’s a familiar ritual that takes place every year — whether it’s the day after Thanksgiving or soon before the first out-of-town guests arrive. It involves the taking down of boxes, the careful unpacking of items (some fragile, some not), and finally, the thoughtful display of beloved trinkets that will fill a home with festiveness for the remainder of the year. From ornaments to miniatures, Etsy is a veritable wonderland of Christmas collectibles. Here are a few of our current favorites.
Long before Americans had Santa Claus, Swedes had tomtes: garden gnome–like creatures associated with the winter solstice. After an 1881 Swedish magazine included a poem about a tomte on Christmas alongside a painting of the small folkloric figure with a long white beard and a jaunty red cap, the modern tomte was born (influenced no doubt by the rising Father Christmas craze); now he’s the one who brings gifts to Swedish children on Christmas Eve.
As such, the tomte’s incredibly popular when it comes to Christmas décor, and you can see their likenesses immortalized on linens and rendered in wood, needle felt, and even little clay sculptures — the smaller the better, says Theresa Isaksson, owner of the shop Scandivintage. “We live in an age when we are attracted to miniatures — something we can carry with us, something to care for, something which can remind us that everything must not be grand and obvious, but instead small, a little secretive, and so perhaps a little more personal,” she says. “The tomte carries a lot of personal feelings and reflections.”
Mercury glass — which do not actually contain mercury — first rose to popularity in early 19th-century Germany as an inexpensive substitute for silver. Composed of double-walled glass filled with a silvering formula, the style, which swept Europe, was used for all sorts of housewares in the hopes that a thief would mistake it for the good stuff. Mercury glass went out of vogue with the advent of the light bulb (which eliminated any chance of a thief’s misidentification), but came back in the 1900s and swept the Christmas decor scene.
Colorful mercury glass ornaments, especially the dioramas, had their heydey in the 1950s and ’60s, and like many other decorative and design elements of that era, have enjoyed a revival in the last decade. Now, collectors and crafters are even combining the tiny vintage ornaments into big, statement-making showpieces, like the multicolored wreaths.
While living in Sweden in the 1940s, American A. Grant Howard was struck with entrepreneurial inspiration when he saw how much the Swedes loved their Christmas decorations. When he returned home, he teamed up with two of his college buddies, brothers Bob and John Howard, and together they launched Holt Howard Ceramics.
Their whimsical Christmas tchotchkes — which included winking Santa mugs, seasonal cookie jars, and hand-painted ashtrays — were must-haves for hip mid-century couples. And it’s easy to draw a through line from vintage Holt Howard to the ceramics craze we’re seeing today.
Vintage holiday decor is the very best kind there is. Family heirlooms and hand crafted hand-me-down’s fill our homes with genuine warmth and memories. Being surrounded by treasures, some of which we do not know their life stories, brings a deeper meaning of creating love filled traditions. What holiday decorating traditions will you be decking the halls with this year? Please let us know in the comments below or #FilthyTreasure to share.
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