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Where did Christmas model villages come from?

Miniature Christmas villages are commonplace during the festive season. Many homes have one, and there’s no denying that the tiny, illuminated settlements can brighten up a dull winter’s day – but where did they come from? Here’s the history behind the Christmas model villages:

From Poland to Pennsylvania

Historians can trace back the origins of little model villages right back to the 18th century. People in various parts of western and central Europe, such as Poland, started to include miniature handmade buildings in their Christmas decorations. In the latter part of the 1700s, German settlers in Pennsylvania began to make this tradition their own by erecting small reproduction village scenes around the bases of their Christmas trees.

December displays

By the late 1800s and into the 1900s, people from all over the globe started displaying tiny village models in their homes and shops. Some of the world’s largest department stores began to create elaborate displays every December, delighting local children and adults alike with their doll-sized street scenes.

Department 56

In 1976, a Minneapolis florist launched a range of miniature, light-up ceramic homes under the ‘Department 56’ brand. The buildings were festive in design and proved extremely popular. The small villages soon became highly collectible, especially after the company started producing every set in strictly limited numbers. The classic ‘Snow Village’ remains one of the most coveted collections, but the company also make a range of licensed ceramic villages. Brands that Department 56 have collaborated with include Jack Daniel’s, Disney, the Elf film franchise and Harley-Davidson, making the business of creating tiny festive scenes far from child’s play.

A pricey pastime

Collecting Christmas model villages is a hobby that is far from cheap. Every model that Department 56 produces is handmade and hand-painted, and each building costs an average of around $100 US dollars, with some going for as much as $250. The models also take up a fair amount of space, and many enthusiasts find they need to keep their collection in the basement.

Cute for couples

Collecting miniature Christmas villages is also particularly popular with couples. The delicate designs might be seen by some as feminine, but the construction and electrical themes throughout might explain why they also appeal to males.

House hunting on social media

Nowadays, social media is in on the act too, with dedicated collectors’ Facebook groups and Pinterest boards devoted to the tiny settlements. These tiny house hunters spend an astonishing amount of time and money trying to hide electrical wires, install running water and create the perfect display.

The perfect Christmas

Why spend so much time and money in pursuit of festive perfection? Perhaps it is a form of escapism – the model Christmas scenes portray an ideal world where everything is picturesque, well-ordered, warm and welcoming. Creating the ultimate Christmas is an aim that many people can identify with, and collecting models gives those living in colder climates an absorbing indoor pastime to get them through the winter.

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