Vintage Christmas Decorations For An Old-Fashioned Holiday

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Vintage Christmas Decorations

Vintage Christmas decorations offer a glimpse of childhood, or an old-fashioned feel. Here’s what to remember when seeking the best ornaments and decorations.


Walk into any department store during the holiday season and you will see so many ornaments that you can’t possibly count them all. They are available in every style, every color, every price range. They range from cheap plastic that won’t make it through one season to high-end, expensive and sturdy baubles meant to last for a lifetime.

But even with all of these choices on the market today, Christmas decorations have never been as beautiful as they were in years past. That’s why there is such a huge market for vintage Christmas decorations.

Vintage Christmas Decorations: The Origin

The earliest decorations kept it delightfully simple. The tree was decorated with fruits and nuts, and sometimes with candles for that holiday glow. When the season was over, the tree was taken outside, with all the ornaments attached. The animals were then allowed to eat their fill of those nuts and berries.

Around the early 1800s, popcorn was introduced as an interesting garland. Ornaments were sometimes rolled out and baked like cookies, with the intention that they would last for one season. When the holiday was over, the animals and birds feasted on the goodies on the tree, as before.

Victorian Christmas

But then the Victorian era came around. And just as with anything else, that era saw a transformation to something much more elaborate. This is when ornaments of every kind burst onto the scene: colored garlands, ornaments made of metal, glass, or carefully crafted wood.

Even those who couldn’t afford such ornaments got in on the more elaborate Christmas by making their own. They used wire, pressed tin, cardboard and construction paper.

Victorian vintage Christmas card
Patricia Hofmeester /

Toys and Lights

Then other things began making their way onto and around the tree. Lionel train sets chugged their slow way around tiny villages. Nativity scenes became more elaborate, some with lights and sound.

Speaking of lights, the first fire-safe Christmas lights were created in 1917, and were soon lighting up the holiday nights everywhere. Nutcrackers hit their popular prime after World War II, as did scenes of elves, reindeer, and bells.


And finally, of course, the big guy, Santa Claus! He became a fixture on every Christmas tree by the 1930s, when Coca-Cola started a fantastically popular campaign that featured the jolly guy in a red suit. By the 1950s, he had become the Santa we currently know and love, and he adorned Christmas decorations of every style and type.

Finding Vintage Christmas Decorations

Choosing the right vintage Christmas decorations starts with focusing on which ones matter the most to you. Do the colorful teardrop Christmas lights remind you of your childhood? Or maybe it’s the brightly colored glass ornaments that capture your fancy. No matter what ornaments you want to use in your home, there are a few things to remember.

Do some homework. Which decorations appeal to you? If you’re not sure and you wind up with a hodgepodge of ornaments, ask yourself: what do they make you feel? Much of the fun of vintage Christmas decorations is the way they transport us right back to another time. Which ornaments and decorations do you associate with the best times in your life? Those are the ones you should focus on for collecting.

vintage Christmas decorations on white

Find your vintage Christmas decorations at the usual suspects, like eBay, Etsy or local auction houses. But don’t discount what you might find at yard sales and thrift stores — some of the best buys come from these places.

Inspect Your Decorations

Look at the condition of the ornaments you want to buy. Some ornaments are definitely vintage, but missing so much paint that the original artwork is no longer clear. Some glass ornaments that have chips are still fine to use and might actually be valuable, but beware those that have been cracked — they could fall apart in your hands. Safety matters when it comes to lights, too. Stay away from vintage lights with frayed or cracked cords!

When you do find the decorations you want, they might be in need of a good cleaning. That could be a problem: Some will lose all their remaining paint and glass might take on a yellowish sheen if you use water. Using a dry cloth is best. Never pack them away with the hangers, as scratches become inevitable if you do.

Store with Care

Finally, store your decorations with care. Don’t shove them into the attic or garage, as the fluctuating temperatures could wreak havoc on the most delicate of your collection. Keep them in a closet or other convenient space inside your home, and pack them all carefully in tissue paper to prevent damage.

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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.