2018-12-06 / Around Town

Fruits, Nuts, Even ‘Pickles’ for Christmas Decorations

By Cynthia Gibson


Della Robbia's ceramic wreath, is a festive holiday ornament . Della Robbia's ceramic wreath, is a festive holiday ornament . Apples, oranges, lemons, walnuts, almonds and pine cones were some of the first holiday decorations. Cinnamon sticks were also a favorite, both for flavoring cookies and bread and for hanging on the Christmas tree. The aromatic mix of cinnamon and balsam is simply the fragrance of the season.

It makes sense that fruits would be used to decorate the home for the holidays. Not only were they used as décor, they were also a fancy gift, for only the wealthy could afford to give a basket of fruit and nuts during the 1400s in Italy.

Luca Della Robbia, a famous Italian sculptor, introduced brightly colored glazes to the world of ceramics. His ceramic wreaths and garlands were adorned with the luscious fruits, nuts and pine cones of Italy. Seasonal pomegranates, oranges, berries and pine cones were his favorites. They were made into plaques and cemented onto doorways of prominent houses and buildings. You can see work similar to Della Robbia’s on the Audrain Building at Bellevue Avenue.

The beauty of fruits, nuts and pine cones is a central theme of the holidays to this day. The colonials brought apples, pineapples, oranges and lemons for ornamentation on pine boughs and laurel leaves from England, and later from France and Italy. The fruit and nut creations would appear over the main door to the home or in a long garland, gracefully draped around the door. They retain as much beauty and thoughtful sentiment today as they did in the 1400s.

Many of the merchants’ and ship captains’ doorways were decorated with fruits, nuts and swags, as the ornamentation was expensive and highly prized. It was a show of beauty and wealth that was appreciated by all.

There is a door-decorating contest coming up in Newport, so I suggest researching the different designs used for the holidays.


Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. The pine cone holds a special place in holiday décor. It can be found on many pine boughs, and it is a natural to have in the home. It is best to find unscented cones and drip essence of Frasier Fir oil on them. Your house will have the fragrance of instant holidays!

Pine cone cookie molds can be used to make Swedish Pine Cone Gingerbread cookies. Not only were gingerbread cookies used to decorate trees, the pine cone represented luck and prosperity. The Swedish Pine Cone cookie is more like a small cake, with powdered sugar sprinkled on top to look like snow. The Scandinavians also added dried stalks of wheat and oats to the ornaments, along with intricately woven straw ornaments. All these gifts from nature made for a lovely Christmas tree or holiday swag.

Lausha, Germany, is home to the first glass-blown ornaments in the shape of fruits and vegetables. The region has been blowing glass beads and Christmas ornaments since the 1500s. The Christmas “pickle” ornament is an American tradition. One of these special green glass pickles can be hung on the tree on Christmas eve. The first to find the pickle on Christmas morning receives an extra treat or has great luck and health for the new year.

The holiday season is upon us, so fill your home with the fragrance of the holidays and the spirit of the New Year. What could be more beautiful than the gift of nature?

Gingerbread Pine Cones

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 cup dark molasses
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cream sugar and butter. Add beaten egg and molasses, and mix thoroughly. Sift dry ingredients together, and add in small amounts to the batter. mix until well blended. Work dough into tins , the dough should be flush with the tops of the tins.

Bake for about 20 minutes.

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