The woodcraft items from the Ore Mountains are a very popular Christmas decoration in German homes (if we can afford it, that is). The Ore Mountains used to be an area where ore mining became the main area of work from the 15th century on. When the ore deposits ran out towards the end of the 16th century the miners used their wood carving skills that they had already used in their free time to create a new field of work for them: wooden folk art. There was wood in abundance and so carving and turning became the new industry in the Ore Mountains. First everyday items were made but by and by toy making and the creation of Christmas decoration became a major part of the product line.
The center of the Ore Mountain folk art production is Seiffen, a village with about 2.500 inhabitants. During the advent weekends about 30.000 people visit its numerous shops that sell wood products.
The most popular decoration items are:
They originally combined the traditions of using light and ever green leaves or wreaths in winter. At first green twigs were wound around four sticks with lights that were tied together at the top. Later little figurines were added and slowly the pyramid developed. Nowadays they are available in a lot of styles and some can cost quite a bit.
Candle arches (Schwibbögen)
Probably the arch is supposed to symbolize the heaven arch (?). The themes of the arches are everyday activities of the miners, forest and its animals or Christian. The arches are put into the windows in the evening and create a very special atmosphere. The lights at the bottom of the arches symbolize the daylight that miners didn’t see very often. At the same time the arch in the window showed the miners the way home in the dark.
The first smoker was mentioned in 1830 and today they are a Christmas staple. The can be opened, a little incense cone is put inside and the smoker is closed again. Then, the incensed smoke comes out of the smokers mouth. The style can vary a great deal. They stand up, sit at the edge of the table, are dressed in various clothes to symbolize different professions like soldier, miner or woodsman.
Nutcrackers have been around in ancient times already. In the Ore Mountains people started to make them after 1800. They look like soldiers, miners, policemen or kings. They are colorful and kids especially love them. The typical Ore Mountain nutcracker is the big red one with the big mouth that is supposed to awe people.
Now, if you feel like going on a shopping spree for typical Ore Mountain folk art, you could have a look at the Erzgebirge-Palast. But be careful and watch your spending. They have some nice goodies like pyramids for over 2.800 EUR there…..
Images: Arches in windows by devilsanddust at wikipedia, pyramid by Sabine Tilgner at wikipedia, arch by Christian Heindl at flickr, Smoker by André Karwath at wikipedia, Nutcracker by Gertrud K. at flickr