• Germany edition
 
Saxony’s Christmas woodcarving tradition
Photo: DPA

Saxony’s Christmas woodcarving tradition

Published: 20 Dec 2011 06:48 GMT+01:00
Updated: 20 Dec 2011 06:48 GMT+01:00

Tall wooden towers crowned with rotating propellers turned by the hot air rising from candles are a key fixture at Germany’s many Christmas markets.

Known as “pyramids,” the carefully carved constructions are the most fanciful expression of the holiday handicraft tradition from the Erzgebirge region in the eastern state of Saxony.

The larger-than-life displays and hand-carved figures like nutcrackers and candle-laden arches trace their origins to the Erzgebirge’s long mining history in the surrounding ore-rich mountains along the Czech border. The now-booming Christmas trade began back in the 1800s, deriving from humble beginnings as a creative outlet and representation of the local miners’ particular penchant for light.

From mining to woodcarving

“For the miner, the light stood simultaneously for his piety – and for the happiness and confidence resulting from coming out of the mine healthy after completed work. During the 19th century, many Erzgebirge residents increasingly decorated their parlours with self-made Christmas lanterns and self-made Christmas pyramids,” Konrad Auerbach, director of the Seiffen Toy Museum, told The Local in an email.

Yet as early as the 17th century, miner figures made of metal were used in Erzgebirge churches to hold the altar candles. Hand-carved wooden miners for private use followed.

“Soon there were carved mining people and light-carrying angels in many homes, and the little pipe-smoking men and the nutcracker belonged to typical Christmas decorations,” Auerbach said.

The wooden Christmas figures are known not only for their traditional characteristics – including hand painting, carved flowers and spanned arches – but also for the special techniques used in their production.

For example, woodturning, a special process during which multiple figures were sliced from a carefully carved wooden ring, was developed around 1800 and increased manufacture productivity while resulting in a certain charm.

Preserving this tradition, Seiffen, an Erzgebirge town considered the central hub of the wooden products manufacture, now christens itself “toy village.” The Seiffen Toy Museum and Open Air Museum hosts a collection of the traditional woodwork as well as offers guests opportunity to see the historical production techniques in action, such as woodturning.

Developing tradition

Although the mining profession died off in the region as ore deposits dwindled, the miner remained a central and beloved figure in the emerging woodwork market.

Around 1830, wood carvers also began woodturning angels, another prominent Christmas figure. The angels were cut from large wooden rings, fitted with wings and a candle holder. Later, the angelic figures were customized with constricted waists, flower ornaments and other decorations that are still common characteristics today.

“Sometimes the light-carrying angel would be set next to a matching light-carrying miner – as a pair, similar to wife and husband. Both figures simultaneously portray Erzgebirge history and Christmas customs,” Auerbach explained.

While the Erzgebirge wooden toys and decorations remain steeped in centuries-old tradition, workshops in the region have also developed modern interpretations to reflect changing lifestyles, sometimes by experimenting with new materials. The Association for Erzgebirge Craftsmen and Toy Makers, a group dedicated to preserving the traditional woodwork, ranks the most popular trends each year.

“Like all things in life, the Erzgebirge wooden handwork has also evolved. That we have countless modern, contemporary products is reflected in the pyramids and figures that have been developed to represent the times. But there are still the traditional elements that are wished for, above all at Christmas,” Dieter Uhlmann, director of the association, told The Local.

Question of Authenticity

In the Erzgebirge – the heart of Germany’s Christmas country – countless workshops continue to turn out the wooden toys, pyramids and arched bows, completing the meticulous handwork for worldwide sales. However, Uhlmann cautioned buyers wanting to add a touch of German cheer to their own holiday decorations.

“Everything that is good is copied,” he said. “Make sure that the origin from the Erzgebirge is proven.”

Many sellers hawking the wooden wares at the Christmas markets have signs declaring their products’ authenticity, while other wooden figures come with tags bearing typical Erzgebirge symbols.

But low-quality, mass-produced wooden figures, ornaments and decorations imported from overseas factories are also prevalent throughout Germany.

“Unfortunately it’s the case nowadays that many of the things that one can buy do not come from the Erzgebirge but rather from China,” said Christoph Felchow, a furniture restorer born in Lichtenstein, a small town at the foot of the Erzgebirge.

Felchow, however, has a second way of guaranteeing the product’s authenticity: He made many of the wooden Christmas decorations – including an ornate multi-level pyramid – on display in his family’s living room himself.

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

22:26 December 20, 2011 by Don L
I enjoyed reading about the Erzgerbige "holzschnitt" and mining traditions. My relatives live in that area, actually in the Vogtland area of Saxony. I have many pyramids and angel bands from the DDR times which they sent me. I always enjoy visiting one of the Erzgebirge Kunstgewerbe shops when I visit there.
08:32 December 22, 2011 by heyheyhey
How wonderful for you, Don L

There is NOTHING in the world as magical as the beautiful handmade items from Germany. You are blessed to have these Christmas treasures.

Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones, at home, and in Germany.
Today's headlines
Weather warning for stormy Berlin
Photo: DPA

Weather warning for stormy Berlin

Forecasters have put out a weather warning for Berlin and much of Brandenburg with thunderstorms and heavy rain set to bring an end to the heatwave. READ  

Fisherman sells oldest message in a bottle
Konrad Fischer with his find. Photo: DPA

Fisherman sells oldest message in a bottle

A message in a bottle tossed into the sea in northern Germany 101 years ago and believed to be the world's oldest is being auctioned on eBay. READ  

Police arrest suspected molester of 175 kids
File photo: DPA

Police arrest suspected molester of 175 kids

UPDATE: A taxi driver, who is accused of sexually abusing 175 children and adolescents, kept a disabled boy in his apartment in Brandenburg for four weeks. READ  

Germany tells citizens to get out of Libya
Fighting has broken out in Libya's capital in recent weeks, including at Tripoli Airport. Photo: EPA/STR

Germany tells citizens to get out of Libya

UPDATE: Germany on Sunday advised all citizens currently in Libya to immediately leave the strife-torn country, following measures taken by countries including Britain and the United States. READ  

Technical glitch & boos kick-off Wagner fest
A scene from the opening night production of "Tannhäuser" at the 2014 Bayreuth Festival. Photo: DPA

Technical glitch & boos kick-off Wagner fest

The opening night Friday of the world-famous Bayreuth Festival, the month-long summer opera extravaganza dedicated to the works of Richard Wagner, was halted for nearly an hour due to a technical hitch while fans were not impressed with the modern take of "Tannhäuser". READ  

Lufthansa to resume Tel Aviv flights
A Lufthansa flight at Ben Gurion International Airport. Photo: DPA

Lufthansa to resume Tel Aviv flights

UPDATE: German flag carrier Lufthansa said Friday evening it would resume flights to and from Tel Aviv on Saturday after a four-day suspension due to the conflict in the Gaza strip. READ  

Pro-Gaza, Israel marches choke city centres
Protesters gather in Berlin on Friday. Photo: DPA

Pro-Gaza, Israel marches choke city centres

UPDATE: Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrators marched in Berlin and other cities on Friday's International Quds Day, as thousands of police stood ready to deal with excesses, including anti-Semitism that had marred earlier protests. READ  

Finders are keepers in Berlin cash hunt
Money will be hidden around Berlin. Photo: @HiddenCash/Twitter

Finders are keepers in Berlin cash hunt

A California millionaire, who became an internet phenomenon by hiding cash and tweeting hints about its location, is bringing the frenzy to Germany this weekend. READ  

'Police killer' confesses to shooting officer
Officers searching a field on Thursday near the scene of the killing. Photo: DPA

'Police killer' confesses to shooting officer

UPDATE: A suspect has been arrested following the killing of an off-duty police officer in western Germany on Wednesday night. The shooting sparked a large manhunt near Frankfurt on Thursday. READ  

German tourist shot dead in Kenya
Two foreign tourists were murdered in Mombasa this month. Photo: DPA

German tourist shot dead in Kenya

Kenyan police said on Friday a female tourist shot dead in the coastal city of Mombasa was from Germany, the second such killing of a foreign visitor by gunmen there this month. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: Bundesarchiv/Bild 183-S45825
Culture
Germany puts 700,000 WWI docs online
Photo: DPA
Society
This man wants to give all of us €12,000 a year
Photo: DPA
Education
Top university switches master's courses to English
instagram.com/gotzemario
Gallery
Germany's World Cup stars share their holiday photos
Travel
Plans unveiled for bike trail along former Iron Curtain
Photo: DPA
Sport
Yoga helped Jogi's boys bring World Cup home
Photo: DPA
National
Pressure on police over anti-Semitic protests
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The Local List: 12 best words in German
Photo: DPA
Politics
View from Germany: 'Nobody will win in an economic war with Russia'
Photo: DPA
Gallery
German Bucket List: How many of these can you tick off?
Photo: Europeana.de 1914 - 1918
Gallery
A German soldier's life behind WWI lines
Photo: Shutterstock
Features
Some of the most embarrassing mistakes you can make in German
Education
Raising the bar for law & business in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
Photo: DPA
Features
The Local List Archive - Your guide to all things German
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,305
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd