By Myra Lee Adams Goff
You have to admit that in South Texas it’s sometimes hard to get in the Christmas spirit. Where is the snow and the one-horse open sleigh, ho, ho, ho? The Sophienburg Museum and Archives tries its best to create the Christmas atmosphere in the Civic Center during its fund-raising Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market).
Every year for the last 25 years, the decorating committee would strive to decorate with something a little bit different and this year they hit the jackpot. Both of the halls will be decorated as usual, but look at the small ballroom stage! Donna and Cody Debner and Beverly and Clark Wigley came up with the idea for decorating the stage behind Sophie’s Café with something that they knew a great deal about. They would create a miniature Neuremburg Christkindlesmarkt.
The Debners and the Wigleys met in Germany in 1977 when both husbands were in the Air Force. The two couples traveled together in the early 2000s and Christmas markets were their favorite destination, particularly in Neuremburg. Christmas markets go way back in Germany and the Neuremburg Market started in 1628. All kinds of craftsmen brought their goods to the market to sell and over the years the market moved to various places. In 1933 it moved to the Main Market Square in the town.
During WWII there was no market held in Neuremburg. It was one of the most bombed- out areas in Germany, but after the war in 1948, the custom was revived and held in the destroyed Old Town among the ruins. Even today, each vendor creates a small area with a red and white striped awning over it. The red and white awnings are actually the colors of the flag of the city of Neuremburg.
The stage at the Civic Center will be adorned with large examples of German Folk Art called Schwibbögen. Perhaps you have seen these arches and didn’t know what they were. Here’s the explanation:
In the Erzgebirge Mountains (Ore Mountains), on the border with Czechoslovakia, is an area of silver and iron mines. A long-standing tradition of that area is construction of small arches to put in windows of the homes. These arches were made of iron and contained seven candles across the arch. The tradition of these objects in the windows was to welcome home the miners at Christmas. The light of the candles represented the only time that work stopped for the miners and so it was a happy time.
As the miners made their way through the snow, they were welcomed home by these candle-lit arches. During Christmas, large Schwibbögen are set up in churches and public buildings. They are decorated with many scenes such as the Nativity, family, hunters, houses and German scenery. For many years the Schwibbögen were hand carved of a very soft wood. Some of them are painted, but most are left to the natural beauty of the wood.
There will be two Schwibbögen five feet tall and nine feet wide on the stage with a traditional Christmas tree between the two. This tree will be decorated with candles (electric) and German straw ornaments. The Germans are not the only people who claim that they originated the Christmas tree, although Martin Luther is the person who has gotten the most credit. The story is that he looked at the night star-filled sky and decided to decorate his indoor tree with candles representing the stars. It seems that the only prerequisite for a Christmas tree is that it has to still be green in December. When the immigrants came to New Braunfels and were looking around for a green tree, preferably a fir tree, they found the cedar. What do we find now? An artificial tree, mostly green, but sometimes even pink. In the late 1800s Sears and Roebuck offered artificial Christmas trees sold by the number of limbs, 33 limbs for $.50 and 55 limbs for $1.00.
Are you familiar with the Weihnachtspyramiden (Christmas pyramid)? It is a reasonable facsimile of a Christmas tree made of finely carved wood with candles at the base that make the top spin. These were quite popular when trees were brought inside. They are beautiful works of art and most are very expensive.
The Schwibbögen on the stage will be left in their original wood and decorated with a wintry mountain scene in Germany. Quaint miniature houses will overlook a festively decorated Christmas market complete with red and white awnings. The arches were designed and drawn by Wilfred Schlather and constructed and decorated by the Wigleys and Debners. Schlather is a devoted volunteer at the Sophienburg besides writing a book about the Civil War in Comal County. It can be purchased at Sophie’s Shop.
The tables in Sophie’s Café in front of the stage allows one to sit and rest, eat German food, and then get up and shop again. The lantern centerpieces decorated by Donna Debner can be purchased at Sophie’s Shop.
Weihnachtsmarkt is organized by the staff at the Sophienburg with Linda Dietert as Executive Director. Hundreds of volunteers give of their time and hundreds contribute, but the Museum and Archives needs you to help their large mission of keeping history alive in New Braunfels.
Weihnachtsmarkt is the largest money-making event that the Sophienburg has. Other fundraisers are the Sophie’s Shop at Wurstfest and a brand new upcoming event on Februray 28, 2015. It is called “Braunfest” on the grounds of the Sophienburg. Watch for details of this new event.
Weihnachtsmark will open its doors at 10 a.m. this Friday and will run through Sunday. Even if it’s 90 degrees outside, you will immediately get that cold winter feeling.