The Christmas-plate tradition originated in Denmark in 1895, when a former Royal Copenhagen designer named F.A. Hallin suggested to his new boss, Harald Bing of Bing and Grøndahl, that he consider a new type of relief-painting technique to make plates. At first, Bing was not especially interested in Hallin’s idea, but he was looking for a way to compete with Royal Copenhagen (the two firms merged in 1987). Bing seized on the idea of a special Christmas plate about seven inches in diameter using Hallin’s technique, and then added a twist—the molds for the plate would be destroyed to ensure the plate’s eventual collectability.
Hallin’s first plate was titled "Behind the Frozen Window," and it featured a blue-and-white, wintery silhouette of Copenhagen framed from below by ice crystals, like the kind that form on a picture window. Hallin designed Christmas plates for Bing and Grøndahl in 1896 (a crescent moon over snow-dusted trees) and 1897 (blue sparrows feeding in the snow) before stepping aside to let a new designer have a turn. Jens Peter Dahl Jensen designed five Christmas plates between 1899 and 1906 ("The Crows Enjoying Christmas" from 1899 is particularly rare), and Johannes Achton Friis gets credit for 14 plates between 1917 and 1931 (the "Skating Couple" from 1927 is especially charming).
The designer of several Icelandic Christmas plates made between 1928 and 1930 is unknown, but those plates are the most collectible, and expensive, Bing and Grøndahl Christmas plates ever produced. Less costly but highly prized are the 10-inch Bing and Grøndahl Christmas Jubilee plates, which were first produced in 1915 to commemorate the 1895 plate. Jubilee plates were produced every five years thereafter—the small production run of the 1940 plates makes them the most collectible of the bunch.
It took Royal Copenhagen more than a dozen years to respond to Bing and Grøndahl’s Christmas enterprise. In 1908, Christian Thomsen designed a six-inch blue plate called "Mary with Child," whose tone was more overtly religious than most plates by Bing and Grøndahl. Depending on the interior image, Royal Copenhagen plates were framed by bands of darker or lighter blue, sometimes decorated with pine cones or birds, but always with the year and the word Jul or Julen, which is Danish for Christmas. Many Royal Copenhagen plates were also produced for non-Danish-speaking markets. These featured the words Weihnachten (German), Noel (French), Vanoce (Czechoslovakia), and Kertmis (Dutch). From 1910 to 1941, plates were even made bearing the English word Christmas on them.
More recently, other notable china manufacturers have produced commemorative Christmas plates. In 1969, Wedgwood of England produced its first Christmas plate, a blue Jasperware piece with a white relief image of Windsor Castle at its center. And in 1981, Lenox of North Carolina made a Christmas wreath plate to honor the State of Virginia, the first of the 13 U.S. Colonies. Plates for the other 12 colonies followed each year.