What do Barack Obama, Elton John and Oprah Winfrey have in common? Glass baubles from Poland. All baubles are handmade according to the old methods of our grandparents. Decorating such baubles takes from a few to over ten minutes, and there are thousands of patterns and colours – traditional balls decorated with sequins, with Swarovski crystals, inspired by modern fairy tales or… the house of the former Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney. Here we present the magical world in which these Christmas works of art are created.
From fruit to richly decorated baubles
Nobody really knows where the idea of decorating Christmas trees came from. Some people think that its history dates back to the 8th century, while others believe it originated from the medieval tradition of mystery plays. What is certain, however, is that the custom of decorating Christmas trees became popular in Germany in the 16th century, and in the 18th/19th century it came to Poland, replacing the tradition of decorating grain sheaves. Initially, Christmas trees were decorated with fruit, mainly apples. Then sweets, gingerbread, nuts and candles were used. However, they were relatively expensive. Therefore, in 1847, Hans Greiner, who worked in a glass factory, came up with an idea to blow a glass ball and hang it on a tree. This is how he started a tradition that has become popular all over the world.
STAY / Vienna House Amber Baltic Miedzyzdroje
From Chinese plastics to glass balls
Today, baubles are produced all over the world, but the city of Yiwu in China is at the forefront of their production. This is where more than half (some people say even 80%) of all Christmas tree decorations in the world come from. However, such decorations are made of plastic, produced on a massive scale, hardly original. The Poles have found their niche and have specialized in the production of handmade glass baubles. Their baubles are considered the high-end products among other Christmas decorations and one can find them on the shelves of such upscale department stores as Bloomingdale’s in the USA or Harrods in London … as well as in the Presidential Palace in Warsaw or the homes of Russian oligarchs.
STAY / Vienna House Andel’s Lodz
Swarovski crystals and cucumber ornaments
Russians are fond of richly decorated baubles. The French often order frogs that are kissed before Christmas Eve dinner. The Americans believe that cucumbers on a Christmas tree ensure material success, which is why Polish factories produce many designs tailored to the needs of specific markets. Almost 80% of Polish production goes abroad. Vitbis in Złotoryja, the biggest factory of Christmas tree decorations in Europe, produces about one hundred thousand baubles every day, which then go to shops in Europe, North America and Asia.
STAY / Vienna House Easy Katowice
How are Polish baubles made?
Traditional glass balls are produced both in small family workshops and large factories, but there are always several people involved in the production of each bauble. First, the blower heats the glass tube to about 1000°C and blows it into a ball. The cooled ball is transported so that another person can put a layer of silver on its inside and “bathe” it at 60°C in water so that its surface turns into a spherical mirror. And then the creation of art begins – painters transform baubles into tiny masterpieces. They apply paint, add decals or use the decoupage technique. They decorate with amber, tinsel or diamond dust. Decorating a single bauble takes from a few seconds to over ten minutes.
STAY / Vienna House Mokotow Warsaw
Take an up-close look
When visiting Warsaw, you should check out Bombkarnia, a unique shop in the city centre selling baubles inspired by Polish embroidery, folk art and national costumes – like the ones that decorated the Christmas tree in the European Parliament during the Polish Presidency. Or visit Silverado, a manufacturer in Józefów near Warsaw that offers factory tours. A must in Cracow is to take your children to the Armar factory in Bębło for a special decoration and painting workshop. It’s an unforgettable experience, and a hand-decorated bauble will make a wonderful souvenir!
STAY / Vienna House Easy Cracow
Where to buy Polish baubles?
You can find them in upscale retail chains in the USA (e.g. Neiman Marcus or Bloomingdale’s), the United Kingdom (Harrods) or Germany. Of course, you can also order them online from the manufacturers’ websites (e.g. vitbis.com or bombkarnia.pl) or at specialist shops, where the selection of designs is mind blowing e.g. szklanebombkichoinkowe.pl or www.lilio.pl. Manufacturers take inspiration from the world of fashion, Polish tradition or… fairy tales. Recently, the most fashionable Christmas balls have been those in the Scandinavian style. The baubles cost from a dozen to several hundred zlotys per piece, but no matter the price they are worth it – the label “Made in Poland” guarantees quality and handmade production.
STAY / Vienna House Andel’s Cracow