New Zealand – Christmas is the one time of year that friends and family come together to celebrate with lots of food, colourful presents and decoration laden trees.
Some of the first items used to decorate Christmas trees were as simple as fruit and nuts. Sprigs of holly and other seasonal flowering plants were also used, as well as candles, which were a bit of hazard until the invention of lights. As the custom of putting up a Christmas tree slowly began to spread through Europe and on to America, the ornaments became more diverse as people started experimenting with different materials.
The first tinsel was made of beaten silver and was much heavier and limited in colour compared to today’s vast array of glistening, colourful plastic and foil versions. Cookies, marzipan and other sweet treats were cut into different shapes such as circles, hearts and stars and hung on branches along with paper snowflakes and hand stitched angels.
This homemade style was overtaken in popularity when the art of glass blowing was taken up in Germany and delicate hand crafted baubles were produced. By the 1880’s, Germany was leading the world in hand crafted glass ornaments. Moulds of children, angels, bells and more saw the shape and style of Christmas decorations change once again.
With the popularity of celebrating Christmas on the rise, the Christmas decoration market began to boom around the world. Soon Japan and the Czech Republic were producing decorations to be imported into America and Europe. The invention of new technology and materials meant that mass production was possible. Suddenly everybody could have glittering, colourful decorations adorning their Christmas tree.
The particular style of art that has been used to create this year’s stamps is known as quilling. It’s thought that its origins date back more than 500 years, but it was at its most popular during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The name came from the act of wrapping a strip of paper around a feather quill to create a tight coil. These days, people can get special tools and templates as well as machine cut strips to make their artworks even more detailed and precise.
Quilling’s popularity peaked in the early 1800’s as a hobby for ‘ladies of leisure’. Although previous to that it had been popular among nuns as a way of decorating sacred texts, containers and holy pictures. Quilling has been brought back to life in recent years with many hugely talented artists such as Yulia Brodskaya who is responsible for the stamp artwork, choosing it as their discipline. A close look at the art works displayed in this stamp issue give an idea of the time, patience and skill required to create these vibrant works.
The story of the birth of Jesus has long influenced Christmas, from carols, to stories to decorations. One of the most common Christmas decorations is the angel, which often takes pride of place at the top of the Christmas tree. Several angels appear in the Nativity story and each plays a crucial role as a messenger or guardian. As the angels often appeared hovering high above the earth keeping watch over the proceedings, this may explain why they have taken the spot atop Christmas trees.
As is the case with many traditional Christmas decorations, Germany is to thank for the creation of glass baubles. Originally people would use nuts, berries and marzipan to decorate their trees. These shapes evolved into decorative glass ornaments that were crafted by hand, and as a result were only available to the wealthy. With advances in technology, cheaper versions using different materials, texture, colour and sparkle were able to be produced around the world, making them more affordable and accessible to everyone.
Atop of most Christmas trees you’ll find either an angel or a star. The star is another decoration that’s origins trace back to the Nativity story. At the time of the birth of Jesus, a bright shining star appeared in the sky and many flocked to the location beneath the it to worship their new lord. The star is now a popular and common decoration associated with Christmas all over the world.
The association of bells with Christmas has been around for a long time. Pagans used to ring bells to ward off evil spirits, while churches would ring bells to announce the beginning of mass or a wedding. Bells eventually became associated with happiness and celebration, and as a result were often rung throughout the Christmas season with merriment. They have since appeared in Christmas carols, as decorations and are a well-recognised symbol of Christmas.
This is another Christmas decoration that finds its origin amongst the pagan traditions in Germany. The tradition of hanging sprigs and branches of evergreens over doorways to celebrate the coming of new life, developed into the circular, wreath shape we know today. Another theory on its origin is that it comes from the laurel crowns that were worn by royalty in ancient Greek and Roman times.
The image on the miniature sheet shows a close up view of the quilled filaments that make up the wreath. The tight red coils that create the berries can be seen to have multiple colours in them, the detail to create a fuller looking image is taken into consideration at every turn. New Zealand Christmas colours of bright summery reds and luscious greens intermingled with strips of pale blue keep the designs looking fresh and festive!