Manship House parlor, 2009.

Christmas trees in the nineteenth century were commonly placed on the table in the parlor, the most formal room in the house.  This tradition followed the fashion set by Britain’s Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  Children and adults made their own ornaments before commercial production made them commonly available.  Small gifts were often hung on the trees.  Cookies, dried and preserved fruits, and gilded nuts made fashionable as well as tasty decorations.  Cornucopias, bon-bon boxes, tiny drums, and nest shaped baskets held Christmas sweets.  Magazines offered inspiration and instructions for making a wide variety of Christmas tree decorations at home.  Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine, December, 1879, included the following instructions:


     This little box, which is in the form of a witch’s pointed hat, may be easily made.  The crown is cut from a piece of thin cardboard or stiff paper, folded in the shape of a sugar-paper, cut evenly at the bottom.  It is covered with black satin, edged with a row of silver beads, and is ornamented with a circle of silver beads and one scarlet feather, which may easily be made by painting a small white feather with a little vermillion paint, if a scarlet feather or dye is not to be had readily.  For the brim and inside, which is made to hold sweets, take the bottom of an ordinary pill-box, line it with a little tin-foil, and sew it to a circle of cardboard covered with black satin.  A narrow ribbon can be fastened at one side to attach it to the Christmas-tree.