Published: 17-03-2010, 18:44


A Christmas pyramid is a triangular or pyramidal structure made up of shelves of unequal lengths joined along their outside edges by supporting posts or poles. Christmas decorations are displayed on each shelf, with the lowest and longest shelf often reserved for a NATIVITY SCENE. Family and friends may arrange apples, cookies, nuts, small GIFTS, evergreen branches, CHRISTMAS CARDS, stars, figurines, candles, flags, and other embellishments across the other shelves according to their taste. A star or pinecone often adorns the apex of the pyramid. In one variation of the pyramid popular in central Europe several centuries ago, a propeller sits atop a pyramid shaped like a tall, round, layer cake. A central axis pole supporting the propeller runs through each of three circular shelves. Rising heat currents from the candles on the shelves below cause the propeller to spin, which in turn causes the axis to spin and the layers of the pyramid to rotate.
Several authors view the candles as the most important ORNAMENTS on the pyramid and suggest that the decorated pyramid serves as an elaborate candlestick. Indeed, one German name for this structure, Lichtstock, means “light stick.” Some authorities maintain, however, that the Lichtstock was a simple pole covered with evergreens bearing a single candle. They offer Weihnachtspyramide as the German term for the Christmas pyramid. The Italians call the pyramid a ceppo, which means “log.” Some explain this odd name by noting that the ceppo, with its glowing candles, replaced the burning of the YULE LOG in ITALY.
The Christmas pyramid originated in GERMANY and became a popular Christmas tradition by the seventeenth century. In early times, the pyramid was hung from the ceiling. Families garnished their pyramids with candles and figurines, for example, of soldiers and ANGELS. Along with the PARADISE TREE, the pyramid stands as a possible ancestor to the modern CHRISTMAS TREE.
From Germany the use of pyramids spread to central Europe, Italy, and ENGLAND. German settlers brought the custom to America. As early as 1747 Moravian communities in Pennsylvania were celebrating Christmas with decorated pyramids. By contrast, the first American Christmas tree dates only as far back as the early 1800s (see also CHRISTMAS IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICA; CHRISTMAS IN BETHLEHEM, PENNSYLVANIA).
In Germany the Christmas tree began to replace the pyramid in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The exploding popularity of the Christmas tree in the nineteenth century contributed to the declining use of the Christmas pyramid in many countries. The Italians maintained the tradition of the Christmas ceppo, perhaps because they never adopted the Christmas tree.
In Erzgebirge, a region of Germany famous for its mining industry, miners began carving fancy wooden pyramids in the nineteenth century. The miners had already developed a tradition of carving wooden candlesticks in the shape of miners and angels. The miners represented the men of the region, while the angels represented the women. Families placed groupings of these candlesticks in their windows at Christmas time, displaying one miner for every boy child in the family and one angel for every girl child. Similar wooden figurines eventually began to populate the shelves of their Christmas pyramids. Miners, Christmas trees, and scenes from the Nativity story, whirled round and round on the propeller-topped shelves. Today villages in Erzgebirge build large, motorized community pyramids, vying with one another to see which locale produces the most impressive display.