Miners produce unique Christmas items

Petra Lessoing
Kaiserslautern American

All over German Christmas markets, shoppers will find unique wooden
items such as nutcrackers, Christmas pyramids, angels and other
figures. The origin of these holiday items goes back to the 17th
century in the Erzgebirge, a mountain area near the Czech border.

***image2***After ore became scarce, many miners were forced to do something else –
so they began turning every day items into little toy figures for their
children, which eventually led to an entire new industry. The miners
created different figures as an artistic expression of their interests
and political concerns.

One of the first items created was a wooden figure of a miner smoking his pipe called “Räuchermännchen,” smoking man.

To express their longing for daylight after working years in the
mountain, they also produced light angels. With the creation of
mean-looking nutcrackers, they intended to insult the magistracy
(government). Former miners also produced wooden policemen, foresters,
soldiers and high authorities with scowling faces – that was their way
of insulting the government and showing them that they were treating
the miners unjustly.

In 1699, a wood craftsman from the town of Seiffen, which is located in
the Erzgebirge, transported his homemade products on a wheel-barrow to
the fair in Leipzig. Commercial relations were established, especially
with the town of Nuremberg. That’s how the manufacturing of these
unique toys started.

Since the standard of living was quite low in the Erzgebirge, the
products were sold at cheap prices and thus faced little competition.
Eventually, the former ore-mining town of Seiffen turned into the
European center of toy production with exports to the United States
starting in 1784.

The most popular item that was exported to the states was “Noah’s ark.”
The little animals were made with a special technique – wheel turning.
Craftsmen prepared wooden wheels and cut the figures out, a technique
still alive today in Seiffen, the “town of toys.”

***image1***At the beginning of the 20th century, the production of miniature toy
figures became more and more popular. By 1890, customs were charged
according to weight and not to the value of the products in exporting
to other countries. This made it more expensive to export big toys. At
the same time, wood prices increased.

Nowadays, the Erzgebirge region is well known for traditional Christmas
symbols – miners carrying lights, angels, nutcrackers, nativity scenes,
Christmas pyramids and wooden archs.

The mining, longing for light, joy of celebrating Christmas and the
love of the miners for their children were the predominant reasons for
this specific type of toy production.