Jul balls from Lauscha

The Jul-Kugeln, whose depictions with runes and mythological symbols are generally hardly familiar to us today, are among the most visible legacies when it comes to Christmas tree decorations from the Nazi era. They are offered again and again at auctions, flea markets or on Ebay.

The story behind them should be explained briefly. Until 1938, the National Socialists referred to Christmas as a celebration of practical National Socialist charity, without this having had any lasting propagandistic success among Germans. At the same time, interested laymen and Germanophile groups within the NSDAP tried to replace Christian traditions with pseudo-Germanic Christmas customs. Even before the seizure of power, the celebration of solstice celebrations (on 21 June and 21 December) had become established within the NSDAP. Occasionally, attempts were made to link the winter solstice and the Christmas festival. The reason given was that the 'Yule' and the 'Winter Solstice' had already been established in prehistoric times in the far north.

It was not until 1939 that the Ministry of Propaganda tried to exert a lasting influence on the Christmas family festival in its own sense. The influence of the churches was to be consistently combated. The National Socialists feared that the Christian message of Christmas could have a lasting effect on the morale of Germans and soldiers.

They tried to trace the origin of all customs and Christian Christmas traditions to allegedly older Germanic customs and traditions. For example, the green fir tree in the house could be explained by the customs of the Germanic ancestors. Incidentally, this is an idea that dates back to the 19th century völkisch movement. According to the will of the National Socialists, Christmas was to be replaced by an ancient Germanic Yule. What could be more obvious than to create suitable 'arteigenic' Christmas decorations for it?

The symbols on the Jul balls were selected by the Berlin-based research association Volk und Arbeit [i] and commissioned from Thuringian glassblowing families (in Lauscha [ii]). They wanted to use them to represent primal Germanic knowledge as something alive and to re-establish knowledge of it in the folk community.

The symbols on the globes are: Year Wheel, Wheel Cross, Sun, Heart with Tree of Life, Ygdrasil (World Ash), Lime Tree, Shield, House Tree (old house gable sign), Apple Tree, Spring Rune, Odals Rune, White Steed, Stag, Stag Antlers, Swan, Life Rune (also called Man Rune).

Some Christmas tree ornament collectors assume that the Jul balls were already made at the beginning of the National Socialist rule. However, this is wrong. The Jul-Kugeln were first produced shortly before Christmas in 1940, i.e. at a time when National Socialist propaganda had already been preparing the ground for them for a year. On 18 December 1940, the Thuringian Gauzeitung ran an illustrated article presenting the new Jul Christmas tree decorations to the public. The late timing of the presentation suggests that production was still low in December 1940. One indication of this is that many well-known National Socialists did not receive the "Jul ornaments for the German Christmas" as gifts until January 1941. One of them was Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, who received the baubles as a gift in January 1941.[iii] The SS newspaper Schwarzes Korps then advertised the Jul ornaments in an article in 1941.

The Jul balls were also distributed for propaganda purposes in the occupied Nordic countries, because the idea was to use comparative folklore to "achieve a really deep understanding of the [National Socialist] Weltanschauung Blut und Boden".

The Jul balls were distributed under the name "Vokalit-Julschmuck" by the Hanover and Berlin-based company Waldmann & Hahn, whose actual production focus, according to the entry in the address book of the city of Hanover, was 'glass posters'.

The Jul balls were available in three different box sizes with six, twelve or 24 balls. There were silver-plated, painted and occasionally coloured glass balls.

On 15 April 1943, after just 2 1/2 years, the Reichsstelle Glas-, Keramik-, Holzverarbeitung (Reich Office for Glass, Ceramics and Wood Processing) banned further production of the glass balls on the grounds of wartime economic considerations.

On private and military contemporary photos of Christmas trees of the time, the Jul balls hardly play a role. Apart from very isolated examples, these 'species-appropriate' tree decorations do not exist in photographs. The reasons for this may well be complex. One reason could be that the German population was not willing to replace their traditionally family-oriented Christmas tree decorations with "Germanic meaningful tree decorations" that were supposed to show a connection with the myth in the world view of the ancestors. A second reason could be the wartime period. Fears about the future, be they of a personal, economic, military or political nature, determined people's everyday lives. Probably only a few people wanted to spend money on new baubles that also had a political connotation. After the fall of communism in the 1990s, complete Yule ball boxes appeared again and again in Lauscha. This leads to the assumption that the glassblowers had produced more copies than were in demand.

Eine kleine Anmerkung zum Schluss: Heutzutage tauchen bei Ebay neu hergestellte Exemplare der Jul-Kugeln auf, die mitunter in unredlicher Weise als „alter Christbaumschmuck“ angeboten werden. Im Gegensatz zu den Originalen sind diese neue Stücke schwerer und die Versilberung stumpfer.

[i] The correct name was: Volk und Arbeit, Arbeitsbeschaffung für Betreuungs- und Grenzgebiete under the supervision of the Bezirksausgleichstelle für öffentliche Aufträge with headquarters in Berlin at Lutherstr. 21

[ii] Letter from the Research Association for Germanic Spiritual Heritage to the Berlin Government Councillor Dr Schön dated 13.6.1941.

[iii] Letter of thanks from Himmler's personal advisor Rudolf Brandt dated 13 January 1941.