forerunners of christmas (or: bringing Saxon traditions to Switzerland)

Sooner or later these beautiful autumn days will come to an end, the days will be even shorter and light will be rare. In Saxony, where my parents live, winter and christmas time are strongly linked to candles and lights in your windows – may they be Moravian stars, pyramids or the Schwibbogen, there will definitely be light in every house. The Schwibbogen originally comes from the Ore Mountains and is an arch with candles on top. It was first designed in the 18th century and symbolises the longing of the miners for light. Mining was one of the main sources of income in the Ore Mountains and during winter time, the miners didn’t see any light at all – waking up in the morning when it was still dark, then working in the mines all day long and finishing their shift when the sun was already set. Before they started working, they used to gather for a short prayer and while they were praying they hang their lamps around the entrance of the mine. It is said that this is the reason for the typical arch with candles.

Driving from village to village in the darkness during christmas time is a particularly beautiful thing to do as you will see the lit candle arches from far away in almost every window frame. Last year, when I first experienced christmas time in our small Swiss town, I very much missed the lights in the windows. I have three small Moravian stars which I always switch on as soon as the sun is set, but I seem to belong to a minority in our town. Only one of our neighbours had Schwibbögen in his window frames and it looked so incredibly cosy every time I came home in the darkness that I decided to buy one as well in order to bring a little bit of Ore Mountain tradition to Switzerland.

Today, I was in the lucky position that I friend of my mother insisted on buying me a late wedding gift. We were first looking for a nice skirt or dress (yes, Karsten, I know it’s just for me and not for you….but she wanted to do make a mother happy!), but we didn’t succeed. Shortly before the shops closed we went into a small artisanry shop with products from the Ore Mountains. They had several Schwibbögen on display, but only one  was designed in the way I wanted it to be. I was a bit hesitant about the displayed scene, but then the woman told the story behind it and it was clear that this is the Schwibbogen I want. Darling, if you read this: we are now proud owners of a traditional Schwibbogen from the Ore Mountains. (A real one, by the way. Because I learned that the market is overstocked by replicas which are, of course, much cheaper than the handmade items. So you should always look for the sign that tells you where it was produced.)



The story behind it? The scene was designed by Paula Jordan in 1937 and is supposed to tell the story of the Ore Mountains. You therefore see two miners because mining was the most important source of income. You see a wood carver (or, to be more specific, a toy maker) as second most important source of income, and a bobbin lacemaker as third source. In the middle you see the old emblem of Saxony. You also see an angel which symbolises good luck for your household, a wooden chandelier which is a very typical item in traditional homes in the Ore Mountains, a common four o’clock as symbol for all the stories and fairy tales, and an incense smoker (another very typical item from this region). All in all, I thought this Schwibbogen is really beautiful and it’s nice to have a story to tell once the little one gets more interested in christmas traditions (or stories in general).

Once we officially start our christmas decoration I will show you a picture of the lit arch. I just have to figure out a way how to transport it to Switzerland…


About erdhummel

Familial entropy - that's an insight into our current life which has been fundamentally changed last summer when our daughter was born. Having studied in Cottbus, Germany, and worked/studied in Edinburgh, Scotland, we momentarily live in a small town in Switzerland where Karsten is trying to save the environment and Freddie is trying to save our sanity. Since there is not much time for elaborate, long emails while doing that, we thought a blog might be a good option to smuggle ourselves into the lifes of our friends.
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4 Responses to forerunners of christmas (or: bringing Saxon traditions to Switzerland)

  1. I love this post–it’s very informative. Do you mind if I offer a link to it in the weeks ahead, if I write a post about German Christmas traditions?

  2. Pingback: christmas market (or: more forerunners of christmas) | familial entropy

  3. Pingback: from autumn to winter | familial entropy

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