|Christmas Putz (Wikipedia)
One of the most enjoyable parts of the tradition was for festive groups to go out into the country weeks ahead of Christmas to collect moss, ferns, bark, branches, stones, and any other materials they could use for building and enhancing their Putz. Stones and fresh moss became caves, little branches turned into miniature trees, and roads of sawdust, sand, or fine dirt led to the nativity with its carved wooden figures of Joseph, Mary, and the Christ child, shepherds, animals, and other traditional nativity figures.
Setting up tiny, glittery houses during the Christmas holidays soon became more widely popular, with cardboard candy boxes a popular building material. A number of manufacturers entered the market, and around 1928, when it became possible for the average family to afford electric lights, they started adding holes at the back of the houses to accommodate light bulbs, which added another dimension to the displays. At that point, the variety of Putz houses exploded, with mainly Japanese designers producing houses sparkling with glitter and dusted with faux snow, with cellophane windows that glowed when lighted. Most were extremely cheap, selling for only five or ten cents. Japan held a near monopoly until the start of WWII, when American companies took over the market, working around wartime rationing of materials like cellophane and ink. Sears-Roebuck and other companies offered simple versions of Putz houses, usually in sets of eight.
|Example of a Putz House
Putz houses saw a dime store revival after World War II when Japan again started exporting them. But by 1960 their popularity had waned as television and other interests took up the time and space consumers had devoted to creating them and new types of holiday decorations became more fashionable. In the 1970s, however, a number of makers introduced ceramic Christmas villages, which became popular in Europe as well as in America. Like many other Christmas traditions, the idea of creating a holiday village spread to other holidays, with a few companies making Halloween and Easter villages.
One reason for the popularity of Putzes may be that they allowed both children and adults to play as they decorated. For some families they hold such sentimental value that they’ve been passed down through the generations. Today vintage pieces are very collectable. Some collectors, concerned that all the cardboard Christmas houses were going to disappear, began to research and catalog them. Ted Althof, who began collecting Putz houses in the 1970s, put together an amazing, detailed history on his “Papa Ted’s Place” website some years ago, which has also become a clearing-house of sorts where people can share information. Since his death, the site has been archived here.
|Central Moravian's Putz
To celebrate the Christmas season, I’m offering a print or ebook copy of my modern-day retelling of the Christmas story, One Holy Night, to the winner of today’s drawing! To enter, please leave a comment on this post that includes your email addy in the form of name at emailservice dot com to foil the webcrawlers. And please share your favorite Christmas tradition. The drawing ends at midnight, and I'll announce the winner early tomorrow morning, so be sure to check back here for the results!
~~~J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is also an author, editor, and publisher. Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won ForeWord Magazine’s 2014 INDYFAB Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, releases in Spring 2017. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year. You’ll find her here.