Glass baubles are the most popular decorations to hang on the green branches of a Christmas tree. It is believed that Martin Luther was the first to light candles on a Christmas tree in 1536, wanting to bring the celestial twinkling of stars to his home. Although the origin of decorating trees is much deeper, with an abundance of symbolic meanings from pagan to early Christian times, the mannerist sixteenth century certainly contributed significantly to the interrelationship of objects and symbols, signs and meanings, on a micro and macro scale. An abundance of ornaments of various shapes and materials has been recorded in the history of decorating Christmas trees, but a beautiful story, just like the one about Luther, accounts for the appearance of glass baubles that will become an essential symbol of the Christmas holidays. Legend has it that in the early nineteenth century, an unemployed glassblower in the German town of Lauscha, known for producing glass beads, did not have money to buy apples, walnuts and other sweets to hang on the branches, so he blew glass bubbles for his children – which have remained the symbol of Christmas decorations ever since. Many additional symbolic interpretations are given to these shiny baubles. They are a permanent and stylized substitute for apples, representing a gift of nature, but also the forbidden fruit of the earthly paradise. But above all, they represent the brilliance itself, a reminder of Luther's reach for the stars, a tool of flicker and twinkle that at least once a year nurtures the better part of our being – the child within.
The first baubles were coated on the inside with a layer of lead, but they were later perfected using silver nitrate. Numerous variants developed from the basic abstract form – first there were variations on the bauble: faceted, concave, with embossed ornaments. Then there were various fruits: raspberries, pears, peaches. This was followed by utilitarian objects, then houses and their inhabitants, Santa Clauses, birds, others various animals, all the way to today's technological inventions, airplanes, mobile phones, etc. The whole of human reality is mapped into these baubles. They are sometimes painted with various scenes, good-luck charms, winter landscapes, etc. The so-called “reflectors” are especially attractive, baubles with one side deeply imprinted with ornaments and often colored, so that they create particularly intense reflections.
The bauble on this year's Croatian stamp is golden. This coloration speaks to the variations in taste that have accompanied the history of these glass objects. Around 1900, silver was the privileged color of Christmas decorations, but it was later overtaken by gold and other colors, especially related to iconographic diversity. The bauble on the stamp is new, which can be clearly seen on the metal hanging holder, and it demonstrates the persistence of tradition. Maybe it was made in Croatia: Austrian and German companies previously had a monopoly in our (and not just our) market, but small local manufacturing business, driven by our holiday cheer, fortunately still exist in our country today.
Meanwhile, glass baubles have become museum pieces, a treasure trove of institutional and private collections around the world. Their fragility is what makes them precious, they are endangered in their existence just like us, and they last as long as we love them. One of their golden reflections is this year's greeting card of the Croatian Post.
Academician Željka Čorak