Candle Carousels Nutcrackers Smokers Ornaments

Candle Carousels Nutcrackers Smokers Ornaments

Seiffen Germany is a town nestled in the Erzebirge or Middle Ore Mountains, just northwest of Frankfurt. It is a small town, and yet full of character. This town is home to Germany’s toy museum as well as a destination for Christmas shoppers seeking handcrafted goods. Originally settled in the 1300’s, Seiffen was a mining town, home to a rich vein of tin ore. By the 1700’s the tin supply had been exhausted and another resource of this mountainous town was utilized – wood. The mine finally closed in 1849 and the miners became woodworkers. Seiffeners were known for perfecting the art form of wood turning. Here a piece of wood is affixed to a pin and is turned as it is carved, this provides a rounding effect. Initially, the miners used woodturning to create household necessities like buttons, needles, spindles, plates, cups, table legs, etc. In time however, with the rising popularity if the Christkindl markets, Seiffen carvers began to create the more popular toys and German figurines for sale during the Advent period of Christmas.

Seiffen wooden toys are known for their whimsical life and full-bodied character. Many of them seem to poke fun at occupations and leisure time activities. Others appear to be caricatures of real people, especially religious and political leaders. Most early toys from this region were the typical balls and blocks found worldwide. One of the early toy sets that the Seiffen woodworkers created were building blocks of various sizes. Other toys were figurines used to decorate or accent the child homes built of blocks. Starting in the 19th century, toy figurines with pulleys and levers were created. Some of these are able to windup and to perform small tasks (like climbing up or down a rope, or walking in a line).

This is a candle pyramid and arch mixed together into a village scene. The church featured is a replica of the church in Seiffen.

Christmas Mountain Village Pyramid

Other wood items created in Seiffen include the pyramid, arches, nutcrackers, and the little smoking men. The German candle pyramid, also called candle carousel, is especially popular during the holiday season. It is a multileveled with platforms, each of which have figurines and caricatures. Candles when lit generate heat and turn a fan located at the top of these pyramids, causing the platforms to rotate – telling the story of the nativity or of the creation of man with images. Seiffen is unique in that either its church mimicked the shape of the pyramid, or the pyramid was created following its shape. Having been built in the baroque period, this church has eight sides being shaped like an octagon. Unlike the prototype church, the steeple is not over the doorway but is located in the center of the building, seeming to have multiple levels reaching upward, like the candle carousels handcrafted in this region. And like the candle pyramids, the church is lit and decorated for the holiday season. A must see if you visit this quaint town.

Seiffen, Germany, is also known for the wood arches that artisans create. Many times these arches frame a scene of some sort. Sometimes they depict holiday festivities and camaraderie, while other times they portray the nativity scene. These arches are displayed in a variety of ways. Some of them are backlit-sending shadows across the room; some portray figurines below them. Others are incorporated into candle pyramids or made small to become Christmas tree ornaments.

In addition to the toys, the candle pyramids and the arches, Seiffen, Germany, is known for its fanciful smokers (or smoking men) and nutcrackers. These are toys enjoyed by the young and the old and can vary greatly in size. Most German smokers and nutcrackers are under 8" tall. Out of all the toys and figurines that Seiffen is known for, the smokers and nutcrackers have the most character – and both have been used to parody occupations and leaders. The smokers are typically rounded folks with a space on the inside of the character where one places burning incense. As the incense burns it is seen to waft out of a various points lovingly poking fun at the being. For example, some smokers make fun of people who are super chatty or simulate choir members with smoke wafting from their wide mouths, other simulate frothing mugs of ale, while the more common smokers simulate – well, smoking men. The German smokers made in Seiffen are known for their good humor.

Basket Trader German Smoker

The nutcrackers are also parodies of various people. Unlike the good-natured jolly fun of the smokers, imitating common man and common tasks, the square-jawed nutcrackers parody leaders and the government. Most commonly through the character of a soldier, but many nutcrackers, also depict kings, policemen, church leaders and other political figures. The miners of Seiffen seemed to want to belittle their leaders by making them perform the tasks of servants, cracking nuts. In modern eras, the nutcracker in all its tough exterior has gained a warm spot in our hearts and is a beloved collectible in Christmas markets in Seiffen and around the world.

Seiffen Germany is a tourist destination renowned for its quaint-town feel, for its beautiful woodcrafts and for its Christmas goods. Unlike most holiday commercial ventures, the Christmas markets, or Christkindlmarkts, found in Seiffen remind us of the true meaning of the holidays. The wooden crafts of Seiffen are still hand hewn, carved and painted. Each piece is unique and individual.