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A Joyous Advent and Merry Christmas to all of you!

Last year I posted on some Christmas items from East German times that I have in my collection (see Year end figures with wings we have heard on high . . .) . As one might expect, this popular holiday’s religious connotations posed some challenges to the Communist leadership and every effort was made to direct the celebrations towards the secular version of things.

And Christmas wasn’t all bad for the regime as the seasonal wooden folk art from the country’s Ore Mountain region enjoyed popularity throughout Germany. Recognizing this, the government set up Expertic, a marketing office charged with overseeing the export of Ore Mountain handicrafts to Western countries in return for, you guessed it, hard currency.

In this video blog, I present several such items including the region’s much loved Räuchermännchen (Smoking Men) and an Expertic® music box I recently acquired at a flea market in Bonn. It’s a beautiful piece, but closer examination suggests it may not be as innocuous as first glance suggests . . .

NOTE: One of my German readers has pointed out that the red-coated figure on the music box is clearly the secular “Santa Claus/Father Christmas” and not “Nikolaus”, the Christian saint who is still plays a role in the German Christmas celebrations on Dec. 6th he gives children gifts in a shoe that they leave out for him the night before. Thanks for that correction, Olaf! Much obliged!

Handmade angels in a traditional Saxon-style as produced by “Gerda Elten Arts and Crafts”

Holidays with religious roots posed a bit of a challenge to the GDR’s socialist masters. Officially, the GDR was a secular state and a significant portion of both Party members and the general public regarded organized religion with great suspicion often bordering on hostility. (For an interesting piece on how these attitudes persist see this recent article in The Guardian which labels the former-East “the most godless place on earth”.)

That said, as is the case in today’s Canada, religious-based holidays (e.g. Christmas and Easter), continued to have great significance on the social calendar. In the GDR, the state naturally downplayed the religious aspects of the holidays, sometimes to rather comical effect. An example of this is illustrated by this week’s featured item, a set of handmade angels crafted by a folk artist from the Saxon city of Leipzig. Read More

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