Today the lighting of the first of four candles in a wreath marks the first Sunday of Advent, the official opening of the Christmas season. We recently prepped for the season with a visit to Seiffen in the Erzgebirge, a mountain range far east in Germany near the Czech border.
Even before Advent, the quaint town of woodworking workshops was packed with tourists from all over Germany and beyond, as the finely handcrafted Christmas decorations are sold all over the world. You may recognize, for example, the Christmas pyramids, layered wooden towers with a circle of small paddles at the top that spin when candles are lit underneath. Particular to eastern Germany are also incense burners in the shape of men with pipes, and Schwibbogen: arched candleholders decorated with figures or silhouettes.
The boxy Seiffen church is a popular motif among the carved wooden items, as are woodpeckers, which must be abundant in the densely forested mountain range.
It was fascinating to explore one of the workshops in Seiffen to get an appreciation for the local trade. While more work is now accomplished with machines, there is still quite a bit done by hand or a combination of both. The man we saw chiseling into small wooden cones spun by a machine could churn out a perfectly formed pine tree in less than a minute. Each woodworker we saw was likewise concentrated on one meticulous and monotonous task: drilling a hole in the shoe pieces for the nutcrackers, painting eyes on angel figurines, gluing beards onto tiny dwarves. These woodworms complete a three-year apprenticeship program to become licensed woodworkers, a profession that nearly every family in this small but world-famous town seems to be involved in.
And, of course, these industrious little elves also make toys in addition to seasonal ornamentation. We visited the Seiffen Toy Museum for a further look into the evolution of crafted wooden toys. One display showed how wooden animal figures can be sliced off like cookies on a roll after the outline is carved around a cross section from a log. Various interactive toys and games interspersed among those behind glass keep the museum engaging for visitors of all ages.
The sleepy but studious town of Seiffen seemed to resemble its own candlelit wooden house miniatures more and more as the day wore on and turned to early night. As a memento of our time here, we bought our own Schwibbogen with a fastidiously adorned Christmas bakery set among a silhouetted forest scene, complete with two of its own tiny Schwibbogen decorations.
Looking forward to another season of Christmas markets, newly underway. Frohes Fest! / Happy Holidays!