Written by: Rachel/ MidMods West – December 4, 2014
Every year, we roll out the Christmas decorations, some old, some new, some homemade, some not. Everyone’s Christmas décor speaks to their family traditions, history, and personal taste. In fact, if you’re like me, you just finally chucked some of those heinous pseudo country decorations from the 80’s. No matter what your Christmas motif is, or what the latest trends are, there are some timeless Mid Century Christmas classics that should be part of everyone’s Christmas decorating scheme. So, in no particular order, here are the essentials:
1. Shiny Brite Ornaments
Without a doubt, when one thinks of a Mid Century Christmas, Shiny Brite Ornaments are most likely the first thing to come to mind. Every year, I carefully lift the lid off our fragile box of shiny bright ornaments and hang them on the tree. They are usually the last ornaments to go up on the tree and they always go on the best branches.
Shiny Brite was founded by German immigrant Max Eckhardt in 1939 and produced in partnership with the Corning Glass Company. Following WWII, Shiny Brite became the largest ornament production company in the world. To read more about Shiny Brite’s history, click here.
Where to get them? Though very breakable, you can still find original Shiny Brite ornaments at most antique/vintage stores during the Christmas season. If you are unable to find vintage ones, The Christopher Radko Company has been making reproductions of the most popular designs since 2003.
Care. Keep them stored in tissue in their box in a dry place free of rodents and other pests. Avoid hanging them on lower branches to keep safe from curious pets and kids. Secure them to the branches with original or new bendable medal hooks.
Average Price: $5 per ornament.
2. Putz Houses
Also known as “Sugar Houses,” or “Glitter Houses,” Putz Houses come only second to Shiny Bright ornaments as quintessential Mid Century Christmas decorations. My Nanna always likes to remark that she paid 15 cents each for her putz houses. In fact some of them still have the price stickers on the bottom. She has about 10 and they’re in perfect condition.
History: The concept of the Putz house originated in the Moravian Church in present day Czech Republic, whose followers settled in Bethlehem, PA and Salem, NC. Moravian settlers would assemble a Putz, or miniature village scene beneath the tree or on the hearth. Putz scenes normally consisted of houses, trees, and nativity scenes. By the 1950’s, Putz houses were mass-produced in Japan as the glitter coated cardboard houses we know today. For a full history of Putz houses, click here.
Today, original Putz Houses go for far more than 15 cents. Fortunately, we have options. If vintage Putz Houses made in Japan are out of your budget, and you’re feeling crafty, you can make them. There are DIY instructions and kits all over the web. You can cut the patterns from cardboard yourself, or buy them already assembled to paint and decorate.
Interesting fact: Insert white Christmas lights into the hole in the back of each Putz houses to make the cellophane windows glow.
Average price on Etsy/Ebay: $20. Recommendation: look for houses with cellophane windows still in tact.
3. Celluloid Plastic Kitsch Ornaments and Figurines
Celluloid and hard plastic Christmas ornaments are hard to come by and considered highly collectible, especially the Santas. Made by companies like Bradford Novelty, Jewelbrite, and in Japan, models like the Santa with sleigh and full set of white reindeer are excellent pieces for your mantle or tree table top. My favorites are the iridescent striped lanterns Christmas tree decorations.
Do you recognize these? Manufactured by Bradford Novelty Company, these delicate plastic bells look amazing on the tree! They come in the glitter coated and iridescent varieties. It’s a bonus if you can find it with its filigree ball still attached (by a chenille cord).
Were to find them? You can find them on Ebay and Etsy and some antique malls. If you have been able to snag these for cheap at a thrift store, or flee market, let us know in “bragging rights!” For more information on the different varieties of celluloid ornaments, click on this guide.
History: Though not a household name like Shiny Bright, Bradford Novelty Company made many of the plastic Christmas decorations that are now considered staples of mid century Christmas décor. Based out of MA, Bradford was a family owned business that was in operation for more than 50 years and closed their doors in 2006. Here is a good example of some of their best Christmas ornaments.
Average Price: $25
4. Knee Hugger Elf
Made popular again by “The Elf on the Shelf” children’s book by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell, many homes are now host to at least one knee-hugger elf. Elf on the Shelf is based on the original Knee Hugger Elves made in US occupied Japan. The Knee Hugger Elf was one of my favorite Christmas decorations as a kid and I spent hours setting up elaborate Christmas wonderland scenes for him to sit in. He was sadly destroyed in a flood, but fortunately, these creepy little pixies aren’t difficult to find.
Were you can find it: Depending on your age, you’re mom or grandmother most likely has one. If not, Ebay and Etsy have loads of results. I recently found a larger one for $7 at the Cerebral Palsy Thrift store in Pacific Beach, San Diego. His face was grubby but I cleaned him right up with a Mr. Clean magic eraser. He now sits next to the “Elf on the Shelf” doll my mom gave me two years ago.
Average Price: $18
5. Aluminum Trees
We all knew that shiny, splendid Aluminum trees would appear on the list. Aluminum trees enjoyed a short stint of popularity, but they will be eternally known as a Mid Century Christmas icon and product of the Atomic Age. For a long time, the aluminum tree fell out of popularity, considered tacky or tasteless, but resurged in popularity around 2005. They are actually quite stunning, especially when illuminated by a rotating color wheel and in the right setting, they can complete your Christmas décor.
History: Primarily produced by the Aluminum Specialty Company in Wisconsin, the aluminum tree was popular in the United States from 1958 to 1965. Click here to get a full history of the Aluminum tree.
Where to buy one: Ebay, Etsy, Estate Sales, Live and Internet Auction
Care: Keeping your original aluminum tree in mint condition is a delicate process. Here is a link to a comprehensive list of must do’s to make sure that your aluminum tree doesn’t end up looking like the aluminum foil covering from last night’s leftovers.
A word of caution from the Consumer Product Safety Commission Website: “Never use Christmas lights on a metallic tree because a person could be electrocuted if the tree becomes charged with electricity from metallic tree needle decorations getting into the light sockets.”
This is why people had rotating color wheels to illuminate their Aluminum Trees.
See Picture above. Read a Mid Century Christmas Essay – Silver Trees and Macaroni Stars by Terry
Average price: $150-900 depending on size and condition
6. Tinsel Icicles (Lametta)
Spend about 5 minutes looking at old black and white photos of Christmas trees in the 1950’s and 60’s and you’ll notice one thing most of them have in common: tons and tons of tinsel.
Tinsel has been around since it was invented in the early 1600’s in Nuremburg Germany. Over the centuries, it has been made from silver, lead, aluminum and now PVC with a metallic finish. Lead was the most popular source material during the midcentury due to its shine and inability to tarnish like its silver predecessor.
Where to buy it: Lead tinsel was discontinued in the 70’s due to it being a potential health hazard, so I don’t recommend seeking it out, if it still exists. You can buy modern tinsel for cheap at Walmart, Amazon or Ebay. It doesn’t lay as elegantly due to its lighter weight, but it’s close enough.
A word of caution: If you are going to use tinsel icicles on a natural tree, please take care to gather all of the strands and save them for the following year before tossing the tree, as tinsel can be an environmental hazard to wildlife. Birds and other small animals can easily get tangled in tinsel that they take back to nests or boroughs, or worse, ingest the tinsel.