I’ve been catching up on custom crochet orders lately, as well as finishing up handmade Christmas gifts for family members, in an effort to meet ground shipping deadlines. What that really means is that the house has been a jumble of yarn, boxes, bags, wrapping paper and tags. I’m thankful now that I started decorating the house for the holidays right after Thanksgiving; I don’t have time at present. The last couple of years, in contrast, were so hectic in December that the tree wasn’t decorated until a few days before Christmas. Although decorations are certainly not what is most important during the holidays, it’s a shame not to enjoy them for a longer period of time. Decorations often represent family traditions and evoke treasured memories.
Early in our marriage, John and I lived in southern California, where it was our annual tradition to visit Solvang (“Little Denmark”) and enjoy the Christmas decorations. Solvang was built in 1911 by Danish immigrants who wanted to remember their old world traditions. As a result, many buildings in Solvang look more European than American, and the town is filled with traditional Scandinavian curiosities. On one of our visits to Solvang, we discovered a popular store called the Jule Hus (Danish for Christmas House), where we purchased Christmas candle pyramids for some family members, including my parents. A Christmas candle pyramid is a wooden three-tiered structure that is traditionally decorated with angels and manger scenes, but it can also be decorated with folk scenes celebrating the countryside, or just about anything else you can imagine. Its use, in fact, is not restricted to the Christmas holiday season. The pyramid is crowned with wind paddles at the top, and surrounded by candles at the bottom. When the candles are lit, they create heat currents that rise and cause the wind paddles to rotate and move the tiers around carousel-fashion. For this reason some people call the Christmas candle pyramid a Christmas candle carousel.
In any event, for some reason John and I didn’t get a Christmas candle pyramid for ourselves, and later we relocated to Iowa, so the opportunity to have our own candle pyramid was gone. When my father passed away 18 months ago, my parents’ Christmas candle pyramid passed on to me, however, so this holiday season we are enjoying both it and the memories of past family gatherings.
The Christmas candle pyramid has additional personal meaning for me because its origins are in Germany, where my parents were born. I am, in fact, a first-generation American whose German heritage is still pretty close to the surface. In August of last year, my husband and I visited my relatives in central and northern Germany, spending four weeks listening to family anecdotes, learning about German history and getting acquainted with modern Germany. In the photo below, you’ll see a candle carousel we purchased in Bremen that uses the same movement principle as the candle pyramid. A candle creates heat that rises and pushes air into lightweight tin paddles, rotating the figures hanging from the paddles. The figures represent the characters in the folk tale called “The Musicians of Bremen,” a town in northern Germany very close to the village where my mother was born.
In Germany the Christmas candle pyramid is known as the Weihnachtspyramide. While the candle pyramid is popular throughout Europe now, as well as in the U.S., it was originally found in the Erzgebirge, the Ore Mountains between Germany and the Czech Republic. The same area is also known for its wooden toymaking tradition. Once upon a time, people danced around a St. John’s tree, a pyramid of flowers and garlands, around the time of the summer solstice. Eventually this custom, some say, evolved into our modern Christmas tree. During the Middle Ages, the Christian-themed scenes on each tier were used to teach children Biblical stories.
Today’s Christmas candle pyramids range in size from three-tiered tabletop decorations to the five-tiered, 45-foot-plus tall lighted pyramid found in Dresden, Germany at the Striezelmarkt, the oldest outdoor Christmas market, open for 12 days during December until Christmas Eve. Most of the candle pyramids found in the U.S. are imported from Germany, just like mine, and you can find them at specialty Christmas stores or Christkindl markets. You can see the very impressive Dresden candle pyramid in the YouTube video below.
If you are interested in learning more about the history of the German Christmas candle pyramid, visit these online Web sites:
- Christmas candle pyramid (Wikipedia)
- German Candle Pyramids and Candle Carousel History (Christ Kindl-Markt)
© 2012 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.