Discover Tradition

Erzgebirge Crafters
The supplies of silver, pewter, copper and lead were almost exhausted towards the end of the 18th century, leaving miners with the need for different work. As wood was a plentiful resource at the time, they focused on developing the skill of wood-turning. They became artisans of the craft, and we have been beneficiaries of their gifts ever since.
It was a miner's model that was the inspiration for the design. On Christmas Eve the traditional mines "Mettenschicht" was held during the last shift. At that time, miners hung their lanterns on the wall in a horseshoe shape, symbolizing the entrance to the mine.

The name Schwibbogen originated from one of its architectural features, the suspension arch, which acts as a supporting arch between two walls. It is said that the miner and blacksmith Johann Teller from Johanngeorgenstadt made the first wrought iron Schwibbogens candleholders in 1726.

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The History of the Nutcracker
It is estimated that the first Erzgebirge nutcracker, resembling a soldier, was made around 1870. In those days, all villagers were at the service of their officials and figures in uniforms. To have soldiers, though wooded, at their disposal in their homes must have given the townspeople a feeling of satisfaction. Nutcrackers became an ornament as much as it was a tool in village homes. Today nutcracker designs, representing many hobbies and careers, are being made to respond to the interest of avid collectors all over the world.
"Holzknackl" Nutcrackers
“Holzknackl” are the nutcrackers from the Rothenburg Christmas Workshop. "Holz" means wood in German, the material that are made of, while "Knackl" means to crack open. Although Holzknackls belong to the family of nutcrackers, whose origins date back to the 18th century, their function is no longer utilitarian, but rather ornamental. They are funny and friendly nutcrackers carefully painted with intensive colors. They are characterized by the filigree details, expressiveness and the harmony of the colors.

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Christmas Pyramids
It is understandable that the Christmas Pyramid was modeled after a machine used in underground mines to convey ore, since they were created from the imaginations of miners. 200 years ago in Germany, only the wealthy could afford Christmas trees. The miners from the Erzgebirge would make their own out of wooden sticks tied at the top and decorated with little crafted ornaments and candles. The first movable Christmas pyramid dates back to the year 1850, often representing scenes from the lives of laborers and miners. Later Christian themes were added.

Pyramid propellers, moved by the rising heat of the burning candles, create a charming play of shadow and light on ceilings and walls, making them fascinating centerpieces during the holiday season.

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History of the Incense Smoker
Thanks to the creativity of two men, the large family of smokers are a part of the German Christmas tradition today. Ferdinand Froh and Gotthelf Haustein lived in the Erzgebirge during a time when smoking pipes was becoming fashionable. Until then smoking was a "pleasure" enjoyed only by the Turks. Around 1850 the first wooden smoking Turks were made, with hollow centers, air vents and large mouths, from with the smoke curled out. An incense cone, such as those used in churches of the time, was placed in the center of the figure. Eventually other characters were created, capturing the interests and imaginations of many people.
Kathe Wohlfahrt Incense Smokers
The "Holzknoddl" is traced back to Harald Wohlfahrts college days, a time when he practiced the art of woodturning, woodcarving and hand painting as a leisurely pursuit. After creating several of his own characters and sharing his designs with friends, they immediately nicknamed him "Holzknoddl" (one who tinkers with wood). Years later he used that nickname as an appropriate name for the Kathe Wohlfahrt exclusive Incense Smokers, followed by the Holzmannls and Duftls.

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The Christmas Nativity
St. Francis of Assisi held the first Christmas service in Rome on December 24, 1223, using a nativity display with live figures as part of the service. The Franciscan order, that he founded, then carried that custom throughout Germany. In the 18th century Christian communities throughout the country adopted the practice into their homes. Today nativities are put up during the Advent season in many places throughout the world.
The Advent Calendar
Gerhard Lang printed the first Advent calendar in Munich in 1903. It showed 24 little doors, which could be opened to discover small pictures or surprise inside. Each day from December 1st until Christmas Eve one door was to be opened for a treat. The practice quickly gained popularity and eventually drew international acceptance. Advent calendars with religious and secular Christmas themes are still popular today.

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The Advent Wreath
The Advent Wreath is displayed in churches and homes, a tradition of short history that started over 100 years ago in Hamburg. At that time, many orphaned children roamed the streets, begging for food. The protestant priest Johann Heinrich Wichert attended to these homeless children in the "Rauhe Haus", established in 1833, where he held an Advent service each year and introduced the concepts of Advent Christmas to them.

He conducted a candle service, "Kerzenandacht", everyday for 24 days before Christmas. During that time one of the 24 candles on a large hanging wooden hoop was lit every day until all the 24 candles were aglow. The children decorated the hoop with fir twigs as a symbol for life. That custom grew popular among adults, who then adopted the practice in their homes. They simplified it by reducing the number of candles to four, representing the four Sundays before Christmas.
Rauschgold Angels
It has been over 300 years since the first Rauschgold angel was born. A Nuremberg master craftsman, who had lost his daughter due to a tragic accident, had a dream in which she appeared, wearing a golden dress. The master immediately set about creating a doll of brass sheet metal in her likeness on the following day. The result of his labor of love was a stunning success with his friends, who urged him to make more of these angles to sell at the Christmas market. Today these angels with gold, blue, red or white dresses are made with delicate wax faces and they are truly works of art.

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Angels & Miners
Another legacy from the time of mining in Erzgebirge is the placement of Angel and Miner candle-holders near windows at Christmas time. For the miner, light symbolized life, and thus, held a special significance.

The guardian angel was there to watch over him and to keep him safe. It was not until 1900 that the first of these figures were available for purchase in stores and markets. Today, windows are aglow as candle-bearing figures stand in to represent the number of sons and daughters within a family.
Sankt Nikolaus & Knight Rupert
(Saint Nicholas and Krampus)
Saint Nicholas comes as a bishop with flowing beard and a bishop's miter and staff. Houses are thoroughly cleaned and children clean and polish their shoes or boots in preparation for the saint's visit. On the evening before St. Nicholas Day (December 6th), children put letters to the good saint along with carrots or other food for his white horse or donkey on a plate or in their shoes. These are left outside, under the bed, beside a radiator, or on a windowsill in hopes of finding goodies from St. Nicholas the next morning. During the night Saint Nicholas goes from house to house carrying a book in which all the children's deeds are written. If they have been good, he fills their plate, shoe or boot with delicious fruits, nuts and candies. If not, they may find potatoes, coal, or twigs from Knight Rupert.

Originating in Germanic folklore as early as the 1600s, Knight Rupert or "Krampus" is believed to be a beastly creature who accompanies St. Nicholas on his earthly journey. While St. Nicholas rewards the good children with gifts and sweets, Krampus dispenses punishment to the wicked children who have strayed from the path of good. It is said he takes care of St. Nick's "naughty list." The mere sight of Krampus alone is enough to turn any wrong-doer toward more peaceful pursuits.
The Christmas Tree
In the medieval times the evergreen was said to be the Tree of Knowledge. On its branches were hung apples as a symbol of Man's fall from grace and communion wafers to represent his salvation. But the Christmas tree as we know it today took form during the time of the Reformation in northern Europe. In the city of Strasbourg in 1605, a visitor was impressed to see in a family parlor a fir tree which was decorated. In wealthier homes it was common for each family member to have a tree of their own.

It was during the 1800's that the Christmas tree with its decorations began to spread over much of Europe and across the Atlantic Ocean. Often a royal marriage brought the Christmas tree to a new land. In German tradition the tree is decorated Christmas Eve after the children go to bed.

Soon the toy-makers of the Nuremberg, the glassblowers of Lauscha, the woodworkers of the Erzgebirge, and the craftsmen of dozen Alpine villages found themselves hard at work to keep up with the new demand for ornaments.
The Pickle Ornament
Many families in Germany considered Pickle ornaments a special decoration when the fir tree was decorated on Christmas Eve. The pickle was always the last ornament to be hung on the Christmas tree, with the parents hiding it in the green boughs among the other ornaments. When the children were allowed to view the tree for the first time, whoever first found the special ornament would receive an extra gift left by St. Nicholas for being the most observant child.
Glass Ornaments

In the 1500's, the glass bead makers of Lauscha blew large glass balls for their own homes. As the years passed, and the markets for beads began to dwindle away, they discovered that they were able to still sell their big "kugels". Then in 1857, a Lauscha glassblower, Louis Greiner-Schlotfeger, discovered the formula being used to silver the inside of the glass. A cast was made from a wooden mold, heated glass was poured into the cast, and the ornament was blown. The silver solution was poured inside, shaken around, then the ball was dried, dyed and lacquered and given it's final details.

The Kathe Wohlfahrt "Poetry in Glass" mouth-blown and hand-painted glass ornaments are designed by our own artists at the Rothenburg Weihnachtswerkstatt, the Christmas Workshop. We introduced our first exclusive glass ornaments in 1998, with our Bavarian Santa, Bavarian Mrs. Claus, and the ever popular Christmas Express. The Brass comet and crystal on each product shows the exclusivity.

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Winter Birds

A German legend tells of a Christmas Eve past, when a flock of birds survived the worst winter storm among the protective branches of an enormous fir tree. Only the fir tree's green, plump profile saved the flock from a sure demise. Since that date, blissful winter birds have adorned and populated Christmas trees.

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Pewter Ornaments
The toymakers of Nuremberg were famous for their tin and pewter toys. Like craftsmen throughout Germany, they turned their skill at Christmas time to the making of ornaments.

The first pewter ornaments were made over 200 years ago in flat star and flower shapes or in round forms, reflecting light from the burning candles that adorned Christmas trees. Today's pewter designs are far more intricate and painted in great detail. Their natural sheen is still enhanced by tree lighting, adding an extra luster to the tree's appearance.

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Wood Ornaments

Toymakers of Germany and the woodcarvers of Erzgebirge used their craft to fashion toys and figures to sell. At Christmas time, with the small bits of wood and paint left from the larger pieces, they created tiny horses, trains, sleds and soldiers to delight their children.

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Rothenburg Night Watchman
In the years before the dawn of the 20th century, the night watchman was one of many citizens of Rothenburg responsible for the safety of the inhabitants of this walled, fortified city. His job was dangerous, because he had to guard the city at night like a policeman. The people that he met on the streets were the drunks and the thieves. To protect himself and to show his authority he carried an intimidating weapon called a hellebarde.

The night watchman made his rounds from nine in the evening until three in the morning, relying on the town hall clock to tell him when to sing his "Hour Song," which reminded the people who slumbered safe in their houses that he was still alive and taking care of them.

The night watchman's horn, carried on a chain around his neck, warned the citizens of fire--the worst possible disaster that could strike a city in the days before fire hydrants. Keeping watch over the streets of the inner city, lighting the lanterns and announcing the hours in the still of the night were the duties of Rothenburg's night watchman. There were six of these men patrolling the city up to the year 1920. Today, the Night Watchman still appears at dusk in front of the Town Hall, on Market Square to guide the town's visitors through the romantic alleys and pathways sharing stories of Rothenburg's past.
Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks
The beautiful and unique German cuckoo clocks that hail from the Black Forest region are among the most highly appreciated and popular pieces throughout the world and are one of the top exports from Germany.

The cuckoo clock industry began its climb into popularity during the 18th century. The earlier versions of the clocks had only 12 hour movements and the movements were made primarily from wood. Even the moving parts were made of wood. When the cuckoo clock popularity from the Black Forest increased, clockmakers began replacing several of the wooden movement pieces with metal and brass. This act greatly increased their durability and ensured that they would last longer.

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German Steins
By the early 1500s, several principalities in what is now Germany had passed laws requiring that all food and beverage containers be covered to protect consumers against disease caring insects. The common mug also had to be covered, and this was accomplished by adding a hinged lid with a thumb-lift. This ingenious invention was soon used to cover all German beverage containers while still allowing them to be used with one hand.

Stein is an abbreviation of German Steingut "stoneware", the common material for beer mugs before the introduction of glass. The word alone is not used within Germany, rather "Krug" or "Steinkrug" are used. The word stein could have also originated from the German word Steinzeugkrug, meaning stoneware jug or tankard. By common usage, stein refers to a beer container with a handle and hinged lid.

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Among the spices brought in the trade ships to German ports some 600 years ago were ginger (Ingwer) roots. The pungent, almost peppery spice became known as Pfeffersacke (pepper-sacks) when it was transported inland in burlap sacks by merchants. An early use for the spice was for flavoing cookies, one such know as Pfeffernusse (pepper-nuts).

At the time, commercial gingerbread was prepared by the members of a baking quild, referred to as Lebküchler, and another word for gingerbread gained ground: Lebkuchen. Today, the city of Nürnberg has more Lebkuchen factories than any other in Germany and many different varieties are baked daily. Gingerbread dough can be made into fancy shapes such as hearts, bells, stars, rocking horses, wreaths, squares, triangles or rounds, and all of then can be glazed with chocolate, often white, or colored sugar icing, plus a topping of nuts of candied fruits.
Source: Germany's Regional Recipes, by Helga Hughes

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