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.
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.
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.
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.
Knight Rupert or Krampus
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.
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.