By Maria Konecsny
Back in 2013 on a trip home to Germany, we made the long way from Autobahn to the regional road to single lane streets to the tiny town of Seiffen, population 2000. Tucked away in the deep and old fir-green forests of the Ore Mountains in the far east of Germany, it felt like we had arrived in a place where time had stood still, where Father Christmas might just actually be a real man with a herd of reindeer and an old sleigh stationed in a beat-up lean-to, waiting for the snow to fall thick and constantly.
The area around Seiffen was once rich in silver and tin deposits, but when these dried up, the town had to look for new ways to survive and reinvent itself. They used the materials available around them and started working with wood, turning it and carving it. After a resident took some handmade toys to the Nuremberg market in 1699, the orders for toys and Christmas ornaments started flowing and Seiffen slowly built the reputation in Europe for making the highest quality wooden pieces available to purchase.
And to this day, over two centuries later, these art pieces are still made by families in the area. One family might concentrate on nutcrackers, another on candle pyramids, and another on tree ornaments. Each has its own style and design; together, largely through co-ops, they sell their pieces throughout the world, still mostly hand carving, always hand gluing and hand painting.
Each piece is unique and beautiful for the attention it has received from an individual human hand. Each piece supports, not just a family, it supports a way of life, it supports a skill that is fast dying in the face of mass-produced, machine-made products. It supports tradition and culture. And it's something that you will pass down to your children and they to theirs, inspiring awe and a sense of timelessness at every Christmas.