Christmas Fact 16


German Advent Calendar: Fact of the Day

16. Dezember – Der Adventskalender

Die WeihnachtspyramideThe Christmas pyramid

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This East German postage stamp depicts an elaborate five-level Christmas pyramid. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

The German Christmas pyramid (Weihnachtspyramide) was first developed in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) region in the German state of Saxony (Sachsen) as a low-cost substitute for a real Christmas tree in the late 1700s. A traditional pyramid is made of wood and typically may have from one to five levels (Etagen). The heat from burning candles turns a windmill-like rotor at the top of a tower (the “pyramid”), making the pyramid’s carousel-like platforms – with carved figures – revolve and also ring its chimes. The older German word Drehturm (revolving tower) is actually more descriptive. Such pyramids today can cost as little as 10 or more than 300 euros, depending on how elaborate they are. From the Erzgebirge region (also famous for nutcrackers), the Christmas pyramid soon spread to other parts of Germany.

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A simple, single-level Christmas pyramid with four candle holders. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Beginning in the 1930s, a few large Christmas pyramid reproductions were set up for public display at Christmas markets in the Erzgebirge. By the 1950s there were still only about ten or so of these large-format displays in Germany, but today they are much more common. Many Christmas markets all across Germany now feature a large replica of a Christmas pyramid, some standing as high as 30 feet (9 meters) or more. Since 2014, Hanover has laid claim to Germany’s tallest replica, a 60-foot (18-meter) Christmas tower that people can even climb through. (See the photo below.)

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The 60-foot Christmas pyramid at Hanover’s Christmas market is Germany’s largest.
PHOTO: AxelHH, Wikimedia Commons

Some claim that the name “Christmas pyramid” (Weihnachtspyramide) came about because the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt at the end of the 18th century brought pictures of the pyramids to Europe and eventually to the Ore Mountains, where they reminded the people of the mining capstans used in the region, and also of the old wooden Christmas towers.

A more likely explanation is that the term “pyramid” (Peremett in dialect) was first used in a 1716 chronicle to describe the “pyramids of light” – candle-illuminated pyramid constructions – set up for Christmas inside the St. Wolfgang church in Schneeberg (Saxony). From these simple pyramid-shaped piles of lighted decorations, the term came to be used for the more elaborate carved wooden Christmas pyramids we see today.

WEB > Christmas pyramid – Wikipedia
WEB > Weihnachtspyramide – Wikipedia (Deutsch)
WEB > Käthe Wohlfahrt – German Christmas items from this German Christmas store

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