Holiday Decorations Made in Russia?
Text Linda Lippner
Every year that I have lived in Russia, the decorations for New Year have become more and more glitzy. The New Year and Christmas holiday decorating mania in Moscow starts somewhat reasonably in the middle of December, whereas back home we tend to start the decoration frenzy sometime in late November. Naturally, I brought my boxes of Christmas decorations with me when I moved here, thinking that there might not be anything to buy for my artifi cial tree–in-a-box. Was I wrong! A pre-holiday season trip to Ismailovo brought me face to face with boxes of used decorations of all sorts, mostly from the last few decades of Soviet times when the New Year’s tree would be lavishly decorated with symbols of Soviet accomplishments and New Year holiday cheer.
And then this winter, I got a chance to take what is my idea of holiday heaven: a tour of a factory that makes glass tree ornaments. A company that has been creating glass ornaments for over 100 years right outside Moscow; fi rst creating Christmas tree bead ornaments, then Soviet-style decorations for the Yolka parties, and now elaborate glass ornaments to hang on your Christmas or New Year tree, or on your front door.
The Elochka factory artisans blow thousands and thousands of glass ornaments by hand, or should I say, by mouth. The workshop where this is done looks a little medieval, but when you have individual work-stations with perpetual gas burners blasting away in a room with windows painted over so no sunlight can ruin a perfect view of slender glass tubes being blown into clear glass globes, and with none of the expected safety features such as gloves or goggles to protect the artisans (these would hinder the sensitive touch and eyesight needed to create these delicate objects), we started to understand the investment of talent and skill needed to create these objects.
Completely labor intensive, each successive workshop demonstrated the care that goes into making each ornament. After the blast furnace room, as I was calling it, we walked through to where they were coating the balls with aluminum in an oven room, then dipping the balls into shiny lacquer and sticking them by their slender stems into sand boxes to dry room, and then on to the hand painting each ornament room and fi nally to the packing each ornament carefully room, where the ornaments are either placed in form-fi tted plastic holders or wrapped in brown tissue and placed in custommade boxes.
A few labor and management facts: no one under 18 is hired to work in the slightly dangerous environment; everyone gets to retire at 45 with pensions; disabled people are earning a living at the factory; and the company is a privately-owned stock company.
We then had a very interesting tour of the factory museum. Our guide described to us all the different ornament “eras.” There were photos of employees’ children’s parties from early in the 20th century, and a room fi lled with early implements of the trade which the employees actually used while working in their homes blowing glass beads that were then strung into glass-bead garlands.
Finally, our group was most anxious to visit the last stop on the tour: the room where you buy the ornaments at factory discounted prices. There was no greater sense of satisfaction than purchasing an ornament that you could see in your mind’s eye being created by the craftspeople of the Elochka.