The Christmas tree as we know it today dates back to the 16th century. But until the mid-1800s, they were mostly decorated with edibles like fruits and nuts. That's when German entrepreneurs based in the glassblowing center of Lauscha had the idea to begin producing decorative tree ornaments made out of blown glass. When F.W. Woolworth imported the first of these baubles into the U.S. in the 1880s, the American love affair with Christmas tree ornaments began.
"I don't believe I have an ornament that is any newer than the 1950s," said Christine Bernstein, an Old Town resident who decorates her tree solely with the hundreds of vintage ornaments that she inherited from her mother. "Some are made in the U.S., some in Europe and some even from Japan but they all hung on our family tree when I was growing up."
Bernstein grew up in Pittsburgh, where her parents were married in 1943. She has called Alexandria her home since she was a young bride in 1979.
"I give my nice Jewish husband a lot of credit for helping this come together," Bernstein said of her husband Dan. "We celebrate both Christmas and Hanukah but he really helps me preserve my family traditions when it comes to decorating our Christmas tree."
For the last five years, the Bernsteins have erected a 12-foot Christmas tree in their living room, with Dan Bernstein devising an 80-pound counterweight system to prevent the tree from toppling over. Vintage glass garland and a family heirloom crèche on the fireplace mantle complete the holiday decorations.
"The tree is such a showplace that we don't need to do much else," Bernstein said.
More than 2,000 white lights adorn this year's tree, a 7-foot wide Fraser fir that soaks up about two gallons of water a day.
"Neighbors love stopping by to see the ornaments," Bernstein said. "It preserves a tradition for me and helps my contemporaries recapture their own childhood holiday magic."