Trim Your Tree with the Top Christmas Ornament Trends of the Past Century

Take a look at the most popular Christmas ornaments from 100 years of Better Homes & Gardens.

David Land
David Land

Over the past century, we’ve featured all kinds of Christmas tree trends in the pages of Better Homes & Gardens. Live trees, aluminum trees, and flocked trees have all had their moments. And while we’ve certainly covered a lot of varieties of actual trees over the years, the ways in which we’ve decorated them have changed even more than the trees themselves.

The ornaments, garlands, and ribbons adorning a tree can change the entire look of your holiday decorating scheme. And because Christmas ornaments are really an extension of your home decor, they’re influenced by interior design trends just like other furnishings.

To celebrate our 100th holiday season, we’re taking a look at the top Christmas ornament trends of the last century. From clip-on candles with real flames to iconic Shiny Brite ornaments, these are the most popular Christmas ornaments from the last hundred years of Better Homes & Gardens.

<p>Better Homes & Gardens</p>

Better Homes & Gardens

Clip-On Candles

In the early years of Better Homes & Gardens, we covered a few trends that, looking back, aren’t so advisable. In the 1920s, it was customary to decorate live Christmas trees with clip-on candles made of real wax. Ornaments were expensive, and using clip-on candles was an easy way to add decoration and lighting at the same time. Rather than plugging in lights, like we’re accustomed to today, someone in the home would individually light each candle on the tree in order to get that signature glow. But as you can imagine, this posed quite a fire hazard, especially later in the season as the trees dried out.

In our 1928 December issue, we ran a piece with a totally new idea—using electric string lights to decorate your tree. It took several years for this trend to catch on (mainly because string lights were expensive at first), but, thankfully, we’ve since strayed away from using real flames in holiday decor.

Handmade Ornaments

During World War II, the materials traditionally used to make Christmas ornaments and decor were diverted to help the war efforts. This sparked a crafting revolution, as people searched for a way to add a little joy to their homes without spending much money. In the late ‘30s and early ‘40s, our December issues focused on giving readers ideas for creating DIY tree decorations from materials they could find in their homes. We shared ideas for turning tin can lids into sparkling ornaments and creating hanging icicle shapes out of empty coffee cans. This was one of the first times we covered handmade ornaments, and we haven’t stopped since.

David Land
David Land

Shiny Brite Ornaments

Shiny Brite ornaments are probably the most iconic Christmas ornament trend of the past century, if not the most popular ornament of all time. The brightly-colored glass balls were first made in the late 1930s but became popular in America in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s after the war ended. Families had been reunited, money wasn’t quite as tight, and people were ready to decorate for the holidays with cheery, colorful decor.

The jewel-tone ornaments remained popular for several years, and have had a few small resurgences over the past 70 or so years. But some holiday decor trends are too good to be stuck in one decade: With the recent boom in the popularity of vintage Christmas decor, Shiny Brite ornaments (both the original vintage pieces and their modern-day recreations) are officially back and more popular than ever.

<p>Better Homes & Gardens</p>

Better Homes & Gardens

Photo Ornaments

Ornaments have long been used as a way to display sentimental family memories, and photos are a natural choice for custom decor. In our December 1970 issue, we published instructions for making your own photo ornaments from foam balls and wax. We suggested using the fronts of Christmas cards readers wanted to preserve or printed family photos, attached to the foam balls with warm wax. Today, decoupage medium works well, too.


<p>Better Homes & Gardens</p>

Better Homes & Gardens

Angel Ornaments

Angels have topped Christmas trees since the 17th century, but the classic holiday figures have repeatedly appeared on our pages as ornaments as well. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was common practice to decorate an angel tree—a tradition that still continues today. This tree, featured in our December 1989 issue, is decorated with cut paper angels, but many people collect angel ornaments for a themed tree.

Nature-Inspired Elements

Nature-inspired ornaments became popular in the 1970s and have since been a consistent holiday trend. The rustic, woodland-themed trees of the ‘90s and early 2000s were the precursor to today's popular modern farmhouse look. Pinecone ornaments, wood-slice ornaments, dried berries, and other elements of nature can be found in almost every December issue for the past 30 years.

Monochromatic Bulb Ornaments

After the more-is-more craze of the ‘90s, people really simplified their tree decorating in the 2000s. Monochromatic colorways became popular as the iconic bulb ornaments came back in style. Stores began selling boxes of a hundred or more single-color balls as people decorated their trees in all the same color for a holiday look that wasn’t overly busy. This trend turned into the perfectly-manicured monochromatic Chrismtas trees that are popular across Instagram today. We’ve seen the trend recreated in just about every color, but this candy cane-inspired colorway has been a staple for decades. In fact, it’s our top Christmas color trend of 2022.

Felt Ornaments

First made popular in the '60s and '70s, felt Christmas ornaments are back in style again, and we’ve published instructions for dozens of DIY felt ornaments that can help you hop on the trend. Make your own felted Christmas cookie ornaments, or recreate an old classic with modern colors. The felt tassel ornaments on the right were made using our instructions for the 1940s tin can ornaments mentioned previously, but created with felt rather than metal.

One of the most popular Christmas ornament trends of the last decade is wood bead ornaments. Whether fashioned into miniature wreaths or detailed snowflakes, these simple ornaments fit almost any decor style, blending seamlessly into everything from minimalist Scandanavian looks to rustic modern farmhouse style.