How to Create a German Christmas Pyramid

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Dresden hosts a Christmas market each year with traditional pyramid displays.
Dresden hosts a Christmas market each year with traditional pyramid displays. (Image: Winter in Dresden image by digi_dresden from Fotolia.com)

German Christmas pyramids are wooden towers decorated with sculptures and carvings of holiday motifs including angels and religious figures. Traditionally they spin with the help of the heat of candles placed at the base of the pyramid. The rising heat spins a fan at the top and rotates a platform in the middle, which moves the decorations as well. They were first made in the Erzgebirge or “Ore Mountain” region of Germany, in the east around Dresden. Each year at the Christmas market, Dresden puts up a 45-foot tall pyramid displaying angels and an entire nativity scene. These pyramids are also called “rotating Christmas pyramids” or “table whirligigs”. Making one can be a yearlong project involving a drill press and scroll saws, but it is possible to simplify this symbol of Christmas cheer to build at any skill level by using a kit.

Things You'll Need

  • Pattern for scroll saw or pyramid kit
  • Metal or wooden base
  • Metal or dowel rod
  • Fan head and blades
  • Wooden Christmas figures or hanging metal angels
  • 1 1/4" finishing nail or shorter
  • Glue or epoxy
  • Candles or tea lights
  • Matches

Look for a kit that matches your skill level. If you own a scroll saw and a drill press, there are patterns available for very detailed projects. Scroll Saw Magazine sells a pattern specifically for a rotating Christmas pyramid with two levels in the shape of a church. German woodworker Volker Arnold also sells patterns for several kinds of traditional German Christmas decorations. If you want something simpler, purchase wooden or metal pieces already cut out to assemble.

Set up the base by fitting together the interlocking pieces, though some kits will require nails. Pyramids can have anywhere from one candle to hundreds. The simplest version uses one tea light inside a heavy holder that supports the rest of the pyramid. Many pyramids have four or five candles for a brighter decoration.

Connect the dowel rod or metal rod to the center of the base. A metal rod will clip in easily when you squeeze it so that the hooks catch the slots in the base. The dowel needs to be fitted carefully with a finishing nail and an acorn nut in the base but the dimensions will depend on your kit. The more complex kits have a lower platform that spins and the basic pyramids only spin at the top.

Attach the second platform to the dowel, if you are building a two-tier pyramid. Otherwise, insert the blades in the fan head and push it into the top of the rod. Do not use glue or epoxy yet. Check to make sure it spins easily, without too much friction.

Finish the assembly by adding the decorations. Metal angels hook in to the top, where the fan spins, or they are tied to the blades of the fan. Wooden figures can be glued to the lower platform. Check first to make sure the platform still spins with the extra weight. After all the pieces are attached, place the candles in the holders and light them. The heat should cause the platform to rotate slowly in the candlelight.

The platform and fan spin by the light (and heat) of the candles.
The platform and fan spin by the light (and heat) of the candles. (Image: candle image by Anton Gvozdikov from Fotolia.com)

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