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Before disposable and mass produced christmas décor, decorations were hand crafted and treasured items that would be passed down in families through generations. The Ore mountains produce some of our most loved and treasured Christmas decorations. The are the birth place to many special ornaments, Christmas pyramids and arches!
The Ore mountains are located on the eastern boarder of Germany. This area had harsh winters and agriculture was difficult. It wasn’t until the onset of ore mining that the local economy started to boom. Mining itself though was hard labour and really was only suited to the young strong men. The miners would rise before day break and got the mines only to return home after dark. It became a tradition to leave candles in the windows of the houses to guide the miners back home at night. When there came a time that silver ore prices fell in many parts of the mountsins the workman had to look for other work. Thanks to the abundance of timber provided by forests in the region, the inhabitants took to manufacturing wooden toys.
Family’s become known for specific crafts such as turning animal shapes (Reifendrehen) and another family was known for carving the animal figurines out of it. Yet another would be in charge of painting the figurine or making the small boxes. Today, typical wooden Ore Mountain folk art include Christmas pyramids, Wooden Rauchermann incense smokers, Nutcrackers and wooden figures, Chrismtas mountain scenes (Weihnactsberge) and Ore Mountain Candle arches.
Christmas pyramids (Weihnachtspyramide in German) are a well loved Christmas decoration and is treasured all around the world. Sometimes called a Christmas windmill, wooden carousel or nativity pyramid, they all have their history in traditional German Christmas celebrations. The origins of this unique Christmas decoration comes from Germany but specifically the folk lore and customs of the Ore Mountains.
Erzgebirge is a place in Eastern Germany that is believed to be the birth place of this renowned Christmas decoration. It is thought that the Christmas pyramid was the predecessor of the Christmas tree. These pyramids however were not limited to Christmas celebrations. In the Ore mountains there were customs which involved dancing around the “St John’s tree” which was a pyramid structure decorate with garlands and flowers, to celebrate the summer solstice! In the middle ages across Europe, evergreen branches and candles have traditionally been used to ward off moroseness in the dark and cold months of winter. These two items were eventually unified to create the Christmas pyramid and would become a symbol of Christmas celebrations.
German Christmas pyramids are made out of a multi0-level, tired wooden pyramidal frame. The base has candle holders which allow candles to be burned and as the heat rises the central carousel with a rotor at the top spins with the rising heat. Usually each level of the pyramid has Christmas nativity figures such as angels and wise men. They can also feature other motifs such as mining folk and forest scenes which are specific to the everyday life of the people where the Christmas pyramid originated from, the Ore Mountains.
Weihnachts – pyramide are wooden pyramids with a propeller that spin from the heat of candles burning at the base. A Weihnachts – Glockenspiel have a music or sound component (usually bells) which are tapped by the spinning propeller. These are more like a wind chime in design. A Lichtergestelle (light stand) is a popular construction in the 18th century. There were made out of four poles and decorated with green foliage which was replaced later on by the Christmas tree.
Originally Christmas pyramids were hung from the ceiling of German homes. However these days they usually take their place on a mantle, windowsill or as the centre piece at a dinner table.
A famous christmas decoraiton that has its roots in the Ore Mountains of Germany history, is the Christmas arch. Otherwise known as a Schqibbogen these arches
The development of the Christmas arch is closely related to the mining industry and traditions of the ore mountains. These arches were thought to be made originally for the miners, mining foreman and the smith during the Christmas work shift (Mettenschicht). The table where the Christmas celebration was held would occupy one of these candle arches. It would usually bear symbols commonly associated with the life and wishes of the miners.
Later on these Christmas arches would depict the major sources of income and industry of the people in the region in the 18th and 19th century. The arches would commonly have figurines of miners, wood carvers and a Christmas tree. The candles were more then practical elements to this decoration, they represented the longer of the miners to see the daylight in winter and their safety lamps used while working in the mines.
Originally made from metal, the first Christmas candle arch (Schqibbogen) was made in 1740. These early candle arches were made of from metal (usually a single forged piece of black ore) with a number of candle holders spanning the size of the arch.
Today it is common for them to be made out of wood and to feature battery powered LED lights. Many arches features village and town scenes in winter.
This iconic decoration is an invention of the toy makers in the Ore Mountains. They are known as Rauchermann and burn down incense known as Raucherkerzchen. Several kinds of smoker men exist and often represent different craftsman of the region such as peddlers, miners, soldiers, foresters and hunters.
These unique incense burners give character and charm to a traditional practice. Each figurine can usually be pulled apart at the waist and a small incense cone is placed in the bottom half. It is then lit and the upper hollowed out part is placed back over the lit cone. It burns down slowly releasing a smoke vapor which usually escapes through the mouth of the smoker man.
The Rauchermanner (smoker men) are often brought out around Christmas time and displayed with the Schwibbogen (candle arches), Weihnachtspyramide (christmas pyramids) and nutcrackers. They bring some magical charm through their colorful character and the smell of the burning incense which you can get in many traditional scents such as: pine, marzipan, cinnamon, honey, vanilla etc.
Read more about this unique Christmas decoration here:
Nutcrackers are usually wooden carved figurines in the image of a solider, knight or king. Figurative nutcrackers were thought to have began when a puppet maker won a nutcracking competition by creating a doll with a. mouth for a lever to crack nuts, according to folk lore in Germany! Modern nutcrackers are usually not strong enough to perform this task and are used for decorative purposes only, mainly at Christmas time! Possibly one of the most famous tales of nutrackers at christmas is Tchaikovscky’s ballet The Nutrcracker based on a story by E.T.A Hoffmann. The most exquisite hand carved variety is famously from the Ore Mountains.
Originally the Nutcracker was designed for use to break nut shells. More mechanical and practical designs have existed for many centuries. The decorative Nutcracker adds some charm to this usually mundane task. IT wasn’t until the late 19th century that there was a rise in figurative and decorative nutcracker designs. Particularly these items were from the Alps and accompanied the tradition of putting nuts in children’s Christmas stockings. In a functional Nutcracker figurine you can insert the nut into the open mouth and press down firmly cracking the nut. An ingenuous use of leverage and craftsmanship!
The Rauchermanner (smoker men) are often brought out around Christmas time and displayed with the Schwibbogen (candle arches), Weihnachtspyramide (christmas pyramids) and nutcrackers. They bring some magical charm through their colourful character and the smell of the burning incense which you can get in many traditional scents such as: pine, marzipan, cinnamon, honey, vanilla etc.
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