German Christmas pyramids

Christmas is the time of year when you construct pyramids in your house.  I don’t mean a Valley of the Kings stone affair… I mean a wooden one with candles and a windmill on the top. Obviously.

The Christmas pyramid is a sort of Heath-Robinson contraption which uses the convection current of hot air from candles to power a windmill and spin the pyramid. Unlike most other German inventions, this one has absolutely no practical purpose. None whatsoever.

Most German homes are content with a small table-top affair these days. Something that looks like this.

By Richard Huber (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

German towns and cities tend to build rather grander versions – often displayed at the local Christmas market.  The figures on the different tiers of the pyramids rotate, to indicate to people that they have drunk rather more Glühwein than is good for them.  Or something.

Creative Commons

Originally these decorative carved pyramids date from the middle ages and symbolise light driving away darkness at Christmas time (literally and figuratively).  They pre-date the Christmas tree, which became a more popular decoration – probably due to it being easier to chop down a tree and bring it into the house than to spend months whittling away carving a wooden Christmas pyramid.

Many Germans still use real candles to illuminate their Christmas trees – at the annual risk of burning the house down, of course. What is it about Christmas that suddenly makes an otherwise sensible nation forget about Vorsprung durch Technik?

Wikimedia Commons

In the old days families would add to their collection of wooden figures in the Christmas pyramid every year, in the same way that nowadays people buy a few new baubles for the Christmas tree. For those who are trying to decide between a real or an artificial Christmas tree this year – a Christmas Pyramid could be the most amazing artificial tree you ever bought!

Alternatively, if you start carving now, you might have your very own pyramid ready for Christmas 2011….





Filed under About Germany, children in germany, german art, German festivals, Life in Germany

7 responses to “German Christmas pyramids

  1. Phil

    Of course we use real candles. If the Lord wants to put us and our loved ones on the barbecue, who are we to object? After all it’s his birthday.

  2. Germans swear to me that no one ever starts a fire with their Christmas tree candles. 😀

    • One of the pupils of my daughter’s music teacher had a tragedy that way a couple of years ago. Not only did their tree catch fire, but the house burned down and her father was very badly burned (trying to put out the tree with a fire blanket). They lost everything – I mean absolutely everything – on Christmas Eve. They were lucky their Dad survived, albeit scarred for life.

  3. But did you know that they are called pyramids because Napoleon happened to be in Egypt at a time when they became very fashionable, and the Germans thought it was a cool name?

    • The Germans are good with cool names, as you pointed out once before with the Schwiegermuttersessel. I wonder whether Napoleon thought that one up too… maybe Josephine’s mother was a bit of a dragon…. 😉

  4. Even though I am half German…I didn’t know the history of the pyramid! I always admired those pyramids that were as tall as trees….now I get it! Thanks for sharing this!

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