Minnesota’s German Christmas traditions

Christmas Market at Germany’s Annaberg-Buchholz in the Erzgebirge.

Longing for Light: Ore Mountain miners influence the world
Christmas traditions throughout Minnesota, the U.S. and even the world can be traced back to the woodcarving of miners in need of more income near the border of Germany and Czechoslovakia in the 1800s.

They, in particular, craved and treasured light during the cold, dark season of winter and brought more of it to their homes with wooden candle arches (Schwiboggen), carved miners and angels (who represented their wives), elaborate chandeliers, and grand windmill-topped pyramids that spin from the heat of candles and lights.


Other beloved crafts: delicately curled boughs on wooden pine trees (Spanbäume), smoking Santas and figurines that puff curling wisps of incense, and the well-known Nutcrackers, a wink-wink, nudge-nudge way of mocking the stern mining officials from the Erzgebirge (also known as the Ore Mountains).

You can read my whole feature on Christmas traditions from the Erzgebirge in the Nov. 27 Star Tribune travel section. 

Find hand-crafted German ornaments in Minnesota

While it’s a dream trip to see these crafters and the area that inspires them, it’s also enchanting to find these Christmas crafts closer to home.

The two best places to find “Echte Erzgebirge” or “Authentic Ore Mountains” ornaments? Käthe Wohlfahrt store in Stillwater and several shops in New Ulm.

Stillwater features most famous Christmas store
The Käthe Wohlfahrt store is one of those mandatory stops in Rothenburg, which ranks as one of Germany’s most picturesque (and touristy) medieval towns. Stillwater, Minnesota, claims a rare U.S. branch of this Christmas store.

It complements an already beguiling and historic downtown with its unique blend of boutiques.

Heirloom ornament sets.

Christmas reigns in New Ulm 
In New Ulm, several stores sell one of the greatest wedding gifts I’ve seen: heirloom sets of holiday ornaments. What a great idea and nice twist on the usual sets of pans and home decor brides and grooms put on wish lists.

Try these stores for all things Christmas:

Lambrecht’s Gifts, 119 N. Minnesota St., is an efficient one-stop shop for unique women’s wear and accessories, home decor and baby gifts with two stories and multiple rooms that make it fun to explore. You’ll find a Christmas village and more than one upstairs room filled year-round with German ornaments from elegant to playful.

Guten Tag Haus, 127 N. Minnesota St., has the nicest display of Erzgebirge Christmas crafts such as nutcrackers, the smoking Santas, candle arches and pyramids. They also have colorful displays of German blown-glass ornaments that glitter and catch the light, along with German and Czech cut-glass vases and bowls. If you have Norwegians and Irish in the family, too, you can find gifts for them as well–just not as many. Germans rule New Ulm.

Domeier’s German Store, 1020 S. Minnesota St., sits along a residential stretch rather than downtown so you have to go looking for it. They pipe in the oom-pah-pah music and cram the store with ornaments, clocks and sweets galore. It’s not the best choice if you have kids bundled in bulky winter gear, but it’s fun in a folksy way. Don’t miss looking up at the ceiling that’s covered in postcards.