What Is It about These German Christmas Candle Arches?

When you drive through the Ore Mountains during Christmas season, you experience an enchanting sight, probably unrivalled in the world: All – and I mean ALL windows shine with Christmas lights of the candle arches.

3D Double German Christmas Candle Arches

Where does the odd shape of German Candle Arches come from?

The German candle arch has its origins in the mining industry of the Ore Mountains. First people thought that the shape of the German candle arch reflects the mouth-shaped opening of the mining tunnel. Also, there is the old tradition, where miners placed their mining lamps in the semicircular tunnel entrance during the last shift before Christmas Eve.

However, later folks figured out that the bent shape symbolizes the arch of the horizon with moon, stars and sun. You need to understand that the miners in the Ore Mountains spent most of their time underground and natural light was precious to them. Especially during the winter months, they hardly saw any sunlight because they spent their day time working underground.

What was their initial purpose?

When the miners finally left the mine in the evening, it was already dark outside. Nicely paved roads as we know them today didn’t exist. You could easily get lost in the woods of the Ore Mountains. Therefore the miners’ families put candle lights in the windows, to guide their men home. Especially during the long, cold winter months this was very important.

The first known candle arch was built in 1740. It was still made from wrought iron. Some other early examples date back to 1796 and 1810.

How did candle arches become a symbol of the Christmas season?

Oldest German Candle Arch

Oldest Schwibbogen Foto: Klaus Tanneberger @Freie Presse

As mentioned above, German candle arches were initially made from wrought iron. However, when wood turning became the major bread winner in the Ore Mountains during the early 1800s, more and more candle arches were made of wood, traditionally by fretwork but also hand-carved. Around that time, they also morphed from their original use in the mining industry to a German Christmas decoration. People all across Germany finally started enjoying them!

Over time, traditional themes such as mining, lacemaking and woodcarving were expanded to biblical, Christmas and landscape scenes.  Besides, the traditional semicircular shape, you now also find tree and triangle shapes. Based on your likes, you can also choose between electrical and candle-lit German Christmas arches. And if you really want to get fancy, you go for a three-dimensional German Christmas candle arch. They look particularly stunning!

Candle Arch Fun Facts:

Germans use two separate words for the Christmas candle arch. One is ‘Lichterbogen’, which translates to light arch. The other one is ‘Schwibbogen’ or also called ‘Schwebebogen’. It describes a freestanding arch connecting two supporting walls (floating arch).

Johanngeorgenstadt is called the birth-town of German Christmas candle arches. Not surprisingly, it also houses the world’s largest freestanding candle arch since 2012. It is 25 m (=82 ft.) long, a height of 14.5 m (= 47.5 ft.) including candles and took 15 tons of stainless steel to be built!

Germans get totally wound up about those Christmas candle arches: In 2013, there was a serious fight between a Berlin owner of a Christmas Market stand and a wood carver in the Ore Mountains about the question of “Who has the bigger one”. Both wanted to make it into the Guinness Book of Records. Details in German in this Bild article.

Check out How a Candle Arch Is Made