Like many German Christmas decorations, the Schwibbogen came from the Erzgebirge. Beginning in the Middle Ages, the Mettenschicht, became the traditional last work shift before Christmas in the Ore Mountains. In these deep dark mines, a miner’s light kept the darkness at bay, and hanging them together along an arch would light up the cavern. The tradition of Schwibbogen, or German Christmas Light Arch, emerged from this mining tradition. A tradition born underground in the Ore Mountains, that spread across the world.
What is a Schwibbogen?
Simply put, a Schwibbogen is a candle arch. The word Schwib is an architectural term for a suspended arch between two walls, and bogen is an arc or bow. The candles along the top represent the pit lanterns that miners would carry into the mines.
On Christmas Eve, the foreman ended work early for the Mettenschicht by knocking on the walls (time to “knock off work”). Miners of the Erzgebirge would gather in one room and hang their pit lanterns along the arch of the pit opening, or in an arc on the wall deeper in the mine. The foreman then led a special Christmas Service, after which, a simple communal meal was served. The Miners may not have had soaring cathedrals, but this extra light in the darkness underground was a beautiful substitute for workers on this holy night.
Originally, they were made of iron, so they could be carried into the mines. Today they are more commonly made of wood for household use. And although you can still buy them with candles, today it is more common to find them lit with LED lights.
These lighted arches are usually set on a window ledge so they can be enjoyed from outside as well as indoors. Although larger ones may be placed outside.
History of the Schwibbogen
Johannes Teller, a mining blacksmith in the Erzgebirge is thought to have designed and fashioned the first metal Schwibbogen in the early 1700s. At the time his town, Johanngeorgenstadt, mined silver, tin, and iron (and later, when it was part of East Germany, they would mine Uranium). Today, the mines are played out, but the town is still known as the Schwibbogenstadt or Schwibbogen City, and there you will find the oldest example of an iron Schwibbogen, made by SF Teller (Johannes’s descendant?) which dates back to 1778.
Originally, the Mine Blacksmiths would create these lighted arches as a gift for the mining guilds. The smiths would work on them all year, fashioning them with different symbols like the moon and stars, or the sun and religious motifs, all under an arch of candle holders. Before Christmas, they would be brought into the mines for the Mettenschicht. By the 19th century, mining motifs were added to to the symbols, along with other professions of the Erzgebirge.
Credit for making the Schwibbogen a symbol of the Erzgebirge goes to German book illustrator Paula Jordan. In 1937 she presented a design for a large scale candle arch at the Feieromd Exhibition in Schwarzenberg. Using her plans, Kurt Teller and Max Adler built this massive 7 meter wide, 4 meter tall Schwibbogen that was even lit with gas lights! You can see the crossed swords, and figures that represent minors and toymakers in the Ore Mountains. Today this Schwibbogen shows up everywhere!
That same year, Max Schanz built the first wooden Schwibbogen at the Seiffen Toy College. This one featured Seiffen’s famous round church. Toymakers and Christmas Decoration carvers added Schwibbogen to their repertoire, carving out figures with a jigsaw.
By the 1990s, Light Arches were a common German Christmas Decoration. The wooden arches were lit with either candles or electric lights. The symbols and figures under the arch changed with the times. Today you find snowmen and animals, St Nicholas and forest scenery, Houses and city churches. There are even Schwibbogen with SKIERS swishing down the mountains!… the only limits seem to be with the imagination of the designer. Despite this, the original Erzgebirge designs, the Miners, and the Seiffen church are still popular motifs in Schwibbogen.
German Christmas Market stalls have an incredible selection of modern Schwibbogen, something for everyone.
Click here to find a large selection of Schwibbogen for your home.
Light Against Pandemic Lockdown
When Covid-19 caused lockdowns in March 2020, a call went out from the Erzgebirge to light Schwibbogen between 9 Pm and 11PM nightly. Much of Germany participated in making light against the darkness in a difficult time. The Schwibbogen, the special light stand that gave men who work underground so much hope, would now symbolize togetherness to the world above.
Whether you set yours in the window for Christmas or for a year round symbol of togetherness, a lighted arch is certain to bring delight to all who see it.
Authentic German Erzgebirge Handcraft 3D-Double-Arch – Seiffen in Winter – 44x29x7cm / 17x11x3 inch – RATAGSAuthentic German Erzgebirge Handcraft 3D-Double-Arch – Turning Workshop – 43x30x7cm / 17x11x3 inch – RATAGSAuthentic German Erzgebirge Handcraft 3D – Double Arch – Cologne Cathedral – 50cmx32cm / 16.7×12.6inch – Schlick & TürkAuthentic German Erzgebirge Handcraft 3D-Double-Arch – Seiffen Church – 62x37x5,5 cm / 24x14x2 inches – Michael Müller3D-Double-Arch – Erzgebirge Village – 62x37x5,5 cm / 24x14x2 inches – Michael MüllerAuthentic German Erzgebirge Handcraft Double-Arch Forest People Stack of Wood (3 Figures) – 42x30x4,5 7 16x12x2 inches – Michael Müller3D Candle Arch Cooking pros – 40x30cm / 15,8x12inch – RATAGS
BRUBAKER Christmas LED Light Arch – Old Town Winter Scene – 17.7 x 4.7 x 10.6 InchesOld World Christmas Schwibbogen (GCD115) Tealight Display, MultiDregano Christmas Electric Nativity Schwibbogen Arch
These smaller Schwibbogen are lit by tealights, and might be safer on a table or sideboard.
Santa Workshop Village German Schwibbogen Tea Light Candle ArchDregano Carolers Village Schwibbogen Candle Arch, GermanyNew Year and Christmas Decorations Schwibbogen (GCD115) Tealight Display, Multi (#83008) p3x4-2310
These Schwibbogen come with some love and history.
Vintage Erzgebirge candlestick Folkart East Germany decoration #219Vintage Erzgebirge candlestick Folkart East Germany decoration in original boxTraditional German Christmas arc of light with carol singers, handcrafted natural woodwork original ore mountains folk art GDR ErzgebirgeVintage Erzgebirge candle arch folkart East Germany hand painted decorationChristmas Decor, Muller Seiffen Erzgebirge Candle Arch, Muller Seiffen Five Candle Church Scene Arch, Erzgebirge Candle Arch Decor,Vintage Erzgebirge candlestick Folkart East Germany decorationGerman Erzgebirge Candle Arch – Erzgebirge Wood Nativity Candlestick HolderRustic Vintage Wooden DDR Ore Mountains Schwibbogen Candleholde
Extra Ordinary Light Arches
These Richard Glässer Schwibbogen are specially handmade in Seiffen. The attention to detail is incredible. Truly they are works of art that can be treasured for generations. Motifs include the Frauenkirche in Dresden and the Seiffen octagonal church.
Richard Glässer Seiffen German Candle Arch Frauenkirche Dresden Pyramid, Length 80 cm/32 inch, Natural, electrically Illuminated, Original ErzgebirgeRichard Glässer Seiffen German Candle Arch, Nativity Scene, Length 80 cm / 31 inch, Natural, electrically Illuminated, Original Erzgebirge by Richard Glaesser SeiffenRichard Glässer Seiffen German Candle Arch Frauenkirche Dresden, Length 80 cm / 32 inch, Natural, electrically Illuminated, Original Erzgebirge by Richard Glaesser Seiffen
Order Your Schwibbogen from Germany
Most come from small businesses that ship with Amazon’s help
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