Miniature Buildings
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Miniature Buildings


A collection starts on the dining table

Christmas is a comin' and with it the appearance of Christmas villages. They were never part of my English traditions and I assumed them to have dual origins from both Germany and the USA. I felt I must research this.

I'm prompted to write this little piece today because our favorite supermarket chain in the Netherlands (hence the title; 'dorp' is Dutch for village) is currently offering a range of buildings and other items as the checkout gift - one with every 15 euros. Cheap and cheerful little plastic buildings, with lots of product advertising, but it's nice to see our enthusiasm promoted as an encouragment to young dutch children.

Thank you Albert Heijn. Dank jullie wel. My four year old granddaughter is already hooked. Although they are just simple giveaway models they are really quite nice.

One of this year's Albert Heijn models

My first search into Christmas villages found an article by Rachel Wilkerson Miller on 'Nifty by Buzzfeed'. It's not her usual subject matter but thanks for the research Rachel. The article focuses on the collectors and a US retailer called Department 56 but she includes this useful bit of history.

The relationship between Christmas and tiny things goes way back. In the 1700s, people in Poland and parts of central and western Europe incorporated small, handmade buildings into their Christmas decorations, creating what historian Karal Ann Marling calls “a microcosm of the world in which the celebrants lived." In the second half of the 18th century, German members of the Moravian church in Pennsylvania began setting up a “putz” (a decorative scene) around their Christmas trees. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Christmas train sets began their steady chug toward icon status and American department stores started transforming their window displays into beautiful doll-sized scenes that delighted both children and adults each December. Walk-through Christmas villages that were just a little smaller than scale — just enough to make visitors feel like they were in a storybook — followed. And in 1976, Bachman's, a retail florist in Minneapolis, launched Department 56, a line of light-up miniature ceramic houses, buildings, and accessories with a nostalgic Christmas theme.

There is clearly a lot more to discover on this subject. But not just at the moment.

One site I looked at was Christmas Village Displays They date the phenomenom to the middle of the 20th century, which is when they say that Christmas villages became popular. I think there is probably more to it than that.

I would have liked to share with you some more of what they have to say on the subject. But their copyright notice is particularly fierce (and as an ex corporate lawyer I feel able to say this). My request to include a few quotes and possibly even a couple of their images was declined. There is a lot on the site though its main purpose seems to be displaying advertising links and its very focused on the Lemax brand of collectibles.. A man called Martin Treasure is behind this site which seems to be part of a travel guides site operated by TravelSmart Ltd. It feels odd. It looks at first sight like a site by enthusiasts for enthusiasts but I'm not sure of this.

They do include on their site printable images of miniature buildings to paste onto card and site in christmas villages. Despite their prohibition on copying images they are presumably there for people to copy. I'm not going to copy them here. Not because of their copyright notice but because I think they are horrid. What do you think? I did nevertheless print one out and make it, just to see. Not my taste at all.

David, 3 December 2019
last updated 28/12/19