Did you know that Christmas presents used to be hung on the tree, instead of placed under the tree? In the 1800s, Victorian ladies' magazines promoted hanging presents on a Christmas fir tree and illustrated examples of tree trimming activities such as interwoven ribbons to hold gifts like dolls, toy horses, and little wagons on the tree itself.
Some of the earliest ornaments were fruits such as apples, pears and nuts - treats to savor when the tree was taken down at the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas. As time when on, homemade sweets, such as sturdy gingerbread cookies, also awaited on the tree's branches. While these goodies could be hung on the tree's boughs by strings or cords or carefully balanced in the crook of a branch, they were more secure when tucked into a delicately woven miniature basket or folded paper cone. These presents were more of a surprise and delight when the container's contents were revealed only upon being taken off the tree. Before long, these homemade containers were used to hold small handcrafted gifts or toys for the children.
Popular periodicals published instructions to make containers to hang on the tree, including candy boxes in various shapes and cardboard cornucopias covered in paper (see image at left). Advertisements showed fancy ready-made boxes covered with paper cutouts of Santa or angels, and embellished with velvet, feathers, or fringe. These ornate containers were both elaborate ornamentation for the tree and holders for Christmas presents like nuts, candies, small gifts and toys like marbles or jacks.
Even children's periodicals featured stories of Santa himself hanging little packages and treats one by one on the family's tree, instead of inside their stockings, or under the tree.
Another popular way to hang presents on the tree were Dresdens - three-dimensional hollow containers made of damp cardboard sheets that were molded and embossed into all sorts of fanciful shapes, such as suns, moons, sleighs, and every animal imaginable. They were then painted and lacquered to look as if they were made of gilded metal. While they were beautiful containers in which to hang candy on the Christmas tree, they were not very durable.
Barnum's Animal Crackers Boxes
One of the best examples of a box designed to hold treats on a Christmas tree - and still widely available today - is the Barnum's Animal Cracker's box, a favorite childhood memory for over one hundred years. In 1902, the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) launched the circus car box as a Christmas promotion, with the string attached so that the box of Barnum's Animal Crackers could be hung directly on the Christmas tree. The string has remained a part of the package ever since then.