Russian ornaments, at their earliest, were influenced by German designs, and were predominantly glass, paper mache, or cardboard. Originally, Russian ornaments were symbols of good harvest, prosperity, health, a happy life, and the continuation of the family. So rather than being just “funny” or “nice pieces,” the themes of the ornaments were meant to convey the meaning of old traditions. Some of the most popular subjects were fruits and vegetables, farm animals, and people (boys and girls, dancers, babies, hockey players, and occupations). Many Russian ornaments had a military theme: soldiers, warriors, the Soviet star, dirigible and, of course, the hammer and sickle. After the Revolution of 1917, Christmas was officially banned, with the prohibition lasting until about 1935 when the New Year’s tree was revived for the children, and celebrated with Soviet ornaments and decorations. Ornaments of a religious nature were not allowed, but ornaments that could be used as toys or candy containers were available. Clocks were an important and popular decoration, with the hands always pointing to a few minutes before midnight, honoring the New Year’s celebration.
Many Russian ornaments have their origin in Russian legends and fairy tales, and some ornaments have a historical significance. Better known simply as Ivan and the Firebird, this 1930s ornament is taken from the story, “The Tale of Ivan Tsarevich, the Firebird, and the Wolf”, the story of a mighty tsar with a magnificent orchard, and a firebird with golden feathers that would swoop down each night and fly off with a few of his apples. It’s a magical story of searching for the firebird with a very helpful wolf, and is packed with life lessons, and has a happy ending. The round, glass ornament shown was made just after World War II when cars were a luxury item and the War had just been won. Production on the car, named the “Victory,” began in 1946, and this hand painted ornament, using the model of that car, was available the following year. Although occasionally crudely constructed, Russian ornaments almost always tell a story, or give us new insight into the lives of the Russian people. They make a wonderful addition to any antique Christmas ornament collection.