The art of molding and carving beeswax into holiday ornaments is a tradition that is centuries old and began in Germany with the Lebkuchen bakers. The bakers used their Springerle and gingerbread boards to mold the first beeswax ornaments. These boards were carved from fruitwood into elaborate scenes of St. Nicholas, animals, birds, guild workers and country life. By the mid-1500’s, Christmas markets were thriving in German towns. There are records of bakers attending these fairs making gingerroot flavored breads, as well as merchants who made wax souvenirs which people took home and hung on their Christmas tree.
The custom of wax ornaments hanging on the Christmas tree was brought to America by the early German settler, when melted beeswax was also poured into the wooden cookie boards. Often the wax castings were painted to resemble decorated cookies. In the 1930's to 1950's an American company manufactured a line of ornaments from paraffin that included full-bodied, hollow cast, white wax Santa figures, angels, snowmen and boots which were painted.
True beeswax ornaments have a lovely look and scent that is exquisite. While quite elegant and nostalgic, they are actually fairly easy to make. Since December 7 is the feast of St. Ambrose, patron of candle makers and beekeepers, it would be fitting in the days near his feast day to partake in a beeswax project. The ornament that we place on our Advent tree today to remember St. Ambrose is a beeswax ornament in the shape of a hive.
To make ornaments you need beeswax, a mold, string or ribbon, a can and pan for melting, and something for wax release (oil, cooking spray, or candle wax release spray). There are molds made specifically for wax ornaments. The cookie board style molds can be found at House on the Hill. Brown Bag and Cotton Press carry cookie/paper casting molds which can also be used for wax also. Plastic molds used for making candy can double for wax ornament molds. Though once you use them for wax it is suggested you not use them for food.
Take a cleaned and dried can (pinch small section of rim together to form spout) and place beeswax chunks inside. Place can in pan with an inch or so of water. Heat over medium heat until wax is melted.
- Take a piece of string, bend into loop, dip in melted wax to stiffen, and insert ends into mold (just under wax surface but not touch bottom of wax and mold. Let cool. To facilitate release, place for several minutes in the freezer. Cooled wax will shrink from sides and make for easier release.
Push on mold and pull gently on string to release. Trim edges with exacto knife to smooth if needed. You can leave them natural or paint and decorate them as you wish. Enjoy the sight and scent of your wax ornaments.
If you aren’t up to the idea of melting and pouring hot wax, another alternative that makes a really cute wax ornament is to use cookie cutters on sheets of honey comb wax. I found two really cute patterns shown below, though any cutters and ideas would work.