How will you be marking 2023? Perhaps with a round-robin Christmas letter charting your family’s glittering successes? Maybe with a drawn-out Christmas toast on the big day? Or will you be joining the novelty-bauble bandwagon – an apparently runaway trend that entails buying a new jokey ornament (or many) for the tree that somehow represents the past year.
The department stores are expecting you: this year, Liberty is selling a boggling 1,500 different types of baubles, the 2023 bestseller being the Handbag with Marmalade Sandwich (yours for £16.95), in reference to Elizabeth II’s Paddington skit. Selfridges is close behind with 1,000 varieties, including those in the shape of jade rollers (yes, really), matcha lattes, cowboy boots, hair claws, and even Miranda Priestly. Such is the anticipated demand for novelty baubles, the store says it has 12 per cent more kinds on offer than last year, and even opened its Christmas store two weeks earlier than normal, in mid-September.
But if you really want to be on-trend (you do, don’t you?), you’ll be buying into foodie-themed baubles, which is apparently Selfridges’ fastest-selling type of tree decoration. In fact, the department store has almost doubled its range to meet demand, having sold out of food-related ornaments by early November last year. So you’re in luck if, say, it’s been the year of the anchovy for you, or the cheese board, or oat milk – Selfridges’ Christmas shop can cater to all such major cultural touchpoints. Too late, sadly, if it’s been an air fryer kind of year (go on, admit it): John Lewis has already sold out of it’s air fryer ornament, and you might want to hurry if soya milk, a chicken bucket or a string of chillies best communicates 2023 to you.
Selection of foodie-themed Christmas decorations, all Selfridges
So what might explain the rise of the novelty bauble? Certainly it seems the case that, after Covid-19 cancelled Christmas, many Britons are now embracing the festive season with somewhat looser pursestrings. According to Liberty’s seasonal buyer Calum Wild, the department store is on track for its biggest ever Christmas in its 148-year history: “With such uncertainty and turmoil in the wider world, customers want to seek solace in the simplicity and magic of the festive season,” he explains. “It represents a break from reality.”
Which is actually a pretty good way of describing a Christmas tree laden with miniature ramen bowls, popcorn and mushrooms (apparently this year’s avocado). There is, of course, a very British kind of whimsy to the concept. “I like the humour of having some vegetables hanging on your tree,” says the ceramicist Minnie-Mae Stott, whose hand-crafted baubles in the shape of radicchio leaves, prawns, borlotti beans and oysters are on sale at Selfridges and lifestyle website Glassette, “but I got sick of all the sparkly, garish, glitter-covered ornaments. I want classy things for the tree.” She says she’s never been busier, this year enjoying a four-fold increase in business: “Everyone seems to be going all-out this Christmas.”
Oyster Shell Christmas decoration, from £18.50, Minnie Mae
Food, adds Lisa Cherry, John Lewis’s Head of Christmas, “is everyone’s number one hobby – we have a real emotional connection to it. People will have enjoyed [food or drink] together with friends, so then seeing a particular bauble resonates. Baubles are a way of capturing those moments.” Of course, John Lewis has a competitive advantage here: with Waitrose on speed dial, it has access to all the new food trends when planning the next year’s bauble range. This year, says Cherry, trends that were translated into baubles included Japanese food, fried chicken and chilli: “We want the products to reflect what’s on customers’ minds.”
And let’s not forget the marketing power of novelty – of literally seeing stuff you’ve never chanced upon before. John Lewis’s offering of 350 baubles may sound meagre in comparison to that of other department stores, until you realise almost all are brand new designs each year. It’s no surprise that the “unique and quirky” ones sell out fastest (just look at that air fryer), according to Cherry.
Two Gold Peas in a Pod Christmas Decoration, from £34.50, Minnie Mae
What’s more, choosing to hang motifs of, say, caviar, lobster and Champagne (all, by the way, available at Selfridges, and indeed, all in its top ten of bestselling foodie baubles) on your tree is a direct way of communicating how very sophisticated you are – especially when Instagram is your broadcaster. Why waste a fir branch on a generic star or snowflake? Surely novelty baubles are the new emojis.
So what’s the verdict on novelty baubles: a charming, original way of decorating your tree, or unspeakably naff? “I’m here for it,” says Laura Jackson, Glassette’s founder. “[Tree-decorating] is not about creating a beautiful piece of art in your home. It’s about having fun with it – it’s about, every time you look at it, it bringing you joy and memories. It’s so subjective – I don’t think there are any rules. What rules, by whom?” Well, quite.