German Christmas pyramids are also known as Christmas carousels or candle windmills. These fascinating structures add a very special touch to the Christmas season. They amplify the festive and cozy atmosphere. Kids especially get fascinated by the steady and calm turning of the carousel and the detailed ornamentation of the sceneries and figurines. The reflection of the lights in the ceiling creates amazing, captivating shadow play.
Germans can’t imagine Christmas without them. If you’ve ever been to Germany during the Christmas season, you’d notice Christmas pyramids inside their homes on tables and cupboards, but also as large center pieces of Christmas markets outside.
1. Who actually invented this amazing piece of art?
German Christmas pyramids are an invention of the miners in the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) in East Germany, a region close to the Czech border. The miners of this region have always been known for their attraction to light and fascination with light. However, they’ve also been known for their great empathy for all mechanical things and their skilled craftsmanship.
The origins of the German Christmas pyramid date back to medieval times. In order to ward off evil spirits during the darker seasons, it was common in Southern and Western Europe to hang up evergreen twigs such as boxwood or mistletoe. A similar custom also existed in Northern and Eastern Europe. There evil spirits were fought off by using light. The wood carvers of the Ore Mountains united both traditions in the wooden candle frames.
Already in the 1700s, ‘pyramids of light’ were put up in the church of Schneeberg, a mining town in the Ore Mountains.
Those wooden candle frames were made of 4 longer rods that were tied together at the top. Evergreen twigs were wound around the rods. A candle was placed in the middle of the frame. Figurines portraying biblical themes were later added around the candle.
2. Where the Christmas pyramid shape came from?
There are actually two theories about that: The miners of the Ore Mountains modeled the pyramid-shaped frame not so much as a rod of light but rather as a horse gin. Horse gins were commonly used for lifting the ore loads out of the mines.
However, there is another theory: During the 16th century it was very common in neighboring Bohemia to lay deceased feudal lords and ecclesial dignitaries out on a pyramid-shaped frame with candles at the outer edges. Even later in the 18th century, pyramid-shaped exhibition structures were used during the main festivities of the Catholic Church.
In the end it was a little of both…
3. How it finally became the German Christmas pyramid?
Around 1800 some creative wood carver came up with the idea to add a center rod with a propeller on top and place the candles on the edges of the frame to power the propeller by the rising heat. Beside the common biblical / nativity themes, the Ore Mountain carvers also added mining, floral and local scenery themes were added. The Christmas candle pyramids as we know them now, were born!
Didn’t take long for this fascinating piece of decoration to make it to other spots in Germany! Berlin had their 1st Christmas pyramids in their homes at the beginning of the 18th century.
The 1st mention in a Christmas toy offerings list was made in 1803 by toy retailers in Chemnitz, Germany.
The first Christmas pyramid with movable mining scenery was built in 1807.
It took until 1830 to make to pyramid lighting affordable through the discovery of cheap paraffin wax. Until that time, the commonly used tallow candles and rapeseed oil lamps were quite expensive for the working class.
Long into the 20th century, German Christmas pyramids were pretty much made in single-unit production. The first company to manufacture them in series was C. L. Flemming in Globenstein, Germany.
4. Before you buy a German Christmas pyramid:
If you intend to buy a genuine Erzgebirge Christmas windmill, always check for the seal of quality, e.g. “Genuine Ore Mountains, woodcraft with heart” (“Echt Erzgebirge, Holzkunst mit Herz”). Many of these local German manufacturers also offer a warranty.
An Ore Mountain Christmas pyramid is handmade, which means that you’ll find great attention to detail and masterly workmanship. For example, this means that not every individual face of the figurines look exactly alike.
Images: Courtesy of Wikipedia and Pinterest