Ask anyone who grew up in the 1950s or ‘60s to describe the Christmas décor of their youth and they’ll probably use the word “shiny.” Metallic finishes were popular in the mid-century era, a time of gold and silver tinsel garlands and Shiny Brite ornaments, pictured at left.
(hand blown glass ornaments available at VHB)
With the revival of mid-century modern furniture, there has also been renewed interest in adding a mid-century flair to Christmas decorating. Google “mid-century modern Christmas” and you’ll find dozens of sites with images of Christmas cards, ornaments, and table décor from the era. The colours and designs are surprisingly versatile and can be added to any modern home, adding a pop of colour to more traditional décor or complementing an existing mid-century theme.
Hallmarks of Mid-Century Christmas Décor
Like the furniture of the era, mid-century Christmas decorations were based on a very modern aesthetic. They had clean lines and shapes inspired by a changing world: atomic, space-age motifs were common as were materials like aluminum and—believe it or not—lead, which was one of the ingredients in those stringy strands of silvery tinsel known as “icicles.” (The lead has since been replaced by PVC. Interestingly, the company that invented tinsel icicles also brought us the now ubiquitous icicle lights.)
The aluminum Christmas tree, memorably ridiculed in A Charlie Brown Christmas, was also invented in the mid-century era. Starting with the “Evergleam,” the aluminum tree trend lasted about 10 to 12 years. It has had a bit of a resurgence of late and is, according to some, “beloved by mid-century modern aficionados as the ultimate in holiday décor.”
You may not want to go full-out with an aluminum tree—if you do, your best place to find one is probably eBay or Etsy—but you can incorporate smaller mid-century elements into your Christmas décor.
• You can still get Shiny Brite ornaments in vintage stores, eBay, Etsy, and maybe even from a family member. A company called Christopher Radko, based in the US, now has rights to the Shiny Brite name and sells re-creations of the iconic ornaments. Other manufacturers also make replicas. To distinguish the real thing from its modern counterpart, you can look for the “Shiny Brite” stamp on the ornament’s metal cap and check for fluted edges on that cap.
• Whether shopping for real vintage Christmas décor or modern versions of it, there are certain elements you can look for that will help create that mid-century vibe. Turquoise was a popular colour back in the ‘60s, even for Christmas, and it was often combined with red or gold. Even pink (verging on fuchsia), blue, and magenta were known to appear on the ornaments and garlands of the day—sometimes even combined. Ornaments had an onion shape or a long conical shape, shown in this retro card from Queens of Vintage. The starburst shape shown on these ornaments is also something to look for.
• Look for glassware and table décor from the era or inspired by it. Value Village, Goodwill stores, eBay, and Etsy are good places to check. Geometric designs, like diamonds, were also popular, as were bold stripes. And the starburst and atomic designs of the era, while not intended for Christmas, have a festive appearance.
• Think creatively. Ornaments do not just have to go on trees. If you find a stash of Shiny Brites that don’t go with the overall theme of your tree, place them in a clear bowl to make a centrepiece for your dining room table. Create a display of garlands, candles, and ornaments on your mantel. Or hang the ornaments with ribbon as the image below, from Pinterest, shows.
• Tinsel garlands are available in all kinds of colours from mass-market retailers. Starburst shapes seem to be popular in garlands and would give an immediate mid-century feel to your tree, banister, or mantel.
• If you are crafty and have time, use some of the ideas on this DIY site to create your own mid-century inspired ornaments in whatever colours you choose. The wreath is a little labour-intensive, but really catches the eye.
• Having a party? Add a mid-century feel to your bar with old-style cocktail shakers and vintage rocks glasses. Glass swizzle sticks are another fun accessory and can be found in holiday themes on eBay and Etsy. Some party supply stores might sell plastic versions that have a retro feel. Add cocktail napkins with colourful geometric designs and drink coasters too.
With a few simple touches you can have a very merry mid-century Christmas!