Life

Putz Houses

Happy New Year’s Eve!  The temperature has hovered at or below freezing for most of the day, and we have enjoyed a steady bout of light freezing rain.  Michael and I plan to spend the evening at home, snuggled up on the couch watching movies.  We are going to order a pizza and break into the second tin of beautiful and delicious homemade Christmas cookies my mom sent us.

As this Christmas season winds to a close, I’m already thinking of next year.  Michael and I will have a house to call our own, and that means I will be able to reunite with all of our Christmas decorations.  Sadly, they spent Christmas 2015 boxed up in our pods.  While we were driving, I came up with a new project to work on between now and next Christmas.

My mother’s village came out every year at Christmas time.  I was always enchanted by the little frosted Christmas trees, houses, people, deer, wooden forest animals, and especially the church, which had a warm glow shining through its stained glass windows.  This church was used in my grandfather’s village when my mom was growing up.  When Michael and I found the turquoise glass pitcher in Mt. Healthy’s Covered Bridge Antique Mall, I spotted two churches that were exactly like my mom’s.  I didn’t buy them during that visit, but our driving landed us back in Mt. Healthy today.  I had the idea to go back into the antique store and see if the churches were still there.  Luckily, they were both available, and I bought the one that was in the best condition.  I am going to start a vintage Christmas village imitating the one my mom put together each year!  I am very excited about collecting the pieces for my own village.

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Parents do special things, both big and little, to make Christmas a magical time of year for their children.  My mom and dad created magic and wonder for us every year, and the Christmas village was a part of it.  Gazing into the little houses and buildings as a child, I enjoyed imagining what the families were doing inside and how they would be making their way to the lit up church on Christmas Eve.  It will be fun to put together a village that imitates the one I remember from my childhood and carry on this tradition.

Some of the buildings in my mom’s village ensemble are wooden, but many of them are cardboard structures.  In addition to the church, I bought several cardboard houses that remind me of hers.  The houses have cellophane windows that catch the glow of light.  “Made in Japan” is stamped on the bottom of them.  After doing some research online, I found out that the cardboard buildings were made in pre-World War II Japan.  Ted Althof provides an extensive history of the little village houses here.  He explains that many of them made their way into American homes through Woolworth’s five-and-dime stores.

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The houses are also called “putz houses.”  In German, putz literally means “to put,” but it also means to mess or fool around with something.  I remember my mother, aunts, and grandmother using it when someone was doing something in the kitchen. “Stop putzing around in there and come sit down and visit.”  The German tradition of Christmas villages was carried on in the U.S. by many German Americans, and that is how the little houses came to be called “putz houses.”  Pretty soon, Michael will be asking me, “How long will you be putzing around with that village?”  Whether you call them putz houses or cardboard Christmas village houses, they’re unique and certainly vintage.

Right now my village consists of the white church with the red roof and three putz houses.  I am envisioning slowly collecting more houses, buildings, people, street lamps, and of course woodland animals!  Michael has already agreed to install a light bulb with a switch in the church so that it will be just like my mom’s.  The Cincinnati area has an endless supply of charming and well-stocked antique stores like the Covered Bridge Antique Mall in Mt. Healthy.  Exploring them and hunting for vintage Christmas village components will be an adventure.

6 thoughts on “Putz Houses

  1. I can’t wait to go putzing around these antique stores with you. It has been ages since I’ve been antiquing. I think I got antiqued out here in Texas….now I am eager to explore what Ohio has to offer!!!!

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  2. I loved this and can’t believe you saw two churches. I read the information about the Japanese houses and am fascinated by the styles, especially the one of several houses. I would suggest looking for only these type, to make your village especially unique. I t will give us something to look for here as well. The three cardboard houses I have I think were German; one definitely is, but I am not sure about the others. Wasn’t that interesting about no info on the products? Happy New Year! Wir lieben Euch!

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    1. Yes, they have a very interesting history. In stores, German houses apparently got replaced in many instances by the Japanese ones after WWI, but before WWII. I like your idea of focusing my house collection on this specific type. I forgot that you also have some wooden houses that were originally older versions of those lebkuchen gingerbread houses, with the glitter painted on top. And the little fuzzy pipe cleaner critters!

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  3. It’s fun to see what you find in the antique stores there. And it will be fun to watch the progress on your village, too! Looks like you’re off to a great start!

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