The Mystery Christmas Piece: The Three Candles


The Schwibbogen, one of the landmarks a person will see while visiting Germany at Christmas time. Consisting of an arch with holders for candles, the Bogen is more commonly known as the Lichterbogen, and has its traditions going back to the 18th Century. The first known Bogen was made in Johanngeorgenstadt in the Ore Mountain region in Saxony, in 1740. It was made of black metal, which is the color of the ore found in the mountain range, was made out of a forged metal piece, and was later painted with a series of colors, adding to the piece 11 candles. This is still the standard number for a normal Bogen, but the number of candles is dependent on the size. The smaller the Bogen, the fewer the candles. Paula Jordan, in 1937, provided the design of the Bogen, by carving a scene. At first, it featured 2 miners, 1 wood carver, a bobbin lace maker, a Christmas Tree, 2 miner’s hammers, 2 crossed swords, and an angel. The light shining in represented the light the miners went without for months as they mined the mountain. However, since World War II, the scenes have varied. Nowadays, one can see scenes depicting the trip to Bethlehem, Jesus’ birth, a historic Christmas village, and nature scenes, just to name a few.  Here’s a classical example of a Bogen one will find in a window sill of a German home:


Photo courtesy of Oliver Merkel.
Photo courtesy of Oliver Merkel.

One will also find Schwibbogen at the Christmas markets, including the Striezelmarkt in Dresden and the largest Schwibbogen in the world at its place of origin in Johanngeorgenstadt, which was erected in 2012 and has remained a place to see ever since! 🙂

Going from the Ore Mountains, 7,400 kilometers to the west, one will see another form of the Schwibbogen, but in the state of Iowa. During the Christmas trip through Van Buren County, Iowa, and in particular, Bentonsport, several houses were shining with candles of their own. But these are totall different than the Schwibbogen we see in German households and Christmas markets. Each window had three candles, with one in the middle that is taller than the two outer ones. This is similar to the very top picture in the article, even though it is a mimic of what was seen at the village. When attempting to photograph the houses, the author was met with this:


Even though there is not much to see from there, it shows how the candles are arranged in front of the window, closed with a curtain. Van Buren County was predominantly Dutch (more on that will come when looking at the Christmas villages), but it is unknown what the meaning behind the three candles are, let alone who was behind the concept and why. Could it be that the Dutch were simply mimicking the Schwibbogen from Saxony but just simply using three candles instead of eleven and subtracting the designed arch holder? And what does the design of the three candles stand for?

Any ideas are more than welcomed. Just add your comments or use the contact form to inform the author what the difference between the three candles and the Schwibbogen are in terms of origin and meaning. The information will be provided once the answers are collected and when looking at the Christmas villages in the county. They are small, but each one has its own culture which has been kept by its residents. The three candles are one of these that can be seen today at Christmas time, even while passing by the houses travelling along the Des Moines River, heading northwest to Des Moines.  Looking forward to the info on this phenomenon. 🙂


Author’s Note: Check out the Flensburg Files’ wordpress page, as a pair of genres dealing with Christmas have been posted recently. They are film ads produced by a German and a British retailer, respectively. Both are dealing with the dark sides of Christmas, as the German one looks at loneliness without family (click here) and ways to get them home for the holidays (even though the technique presented is controversial), and the British one deals with a girl meeting a man far far away (click here), who is lonely and wants company, which is given in the end.  Both have powerful messages, so have your tissues out. 🙂


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Genre of the Week: John Lewis Christmas


Not far behind in the competition is another film that deserves public attention and accolades, and this is one that addresses another dark side of Christmas. While the Edeka commmercial (shown here) focuses on the value of family, this commercial, produced by the British retailer chain John Lewis, focuses on the theme of loneliness in general. In this clip, we have a girl in a big city in a family where one does his/her own thing and does not pay attention to her needs. She feels lonely and somewhat unloved. Then one day, like looking through a telescope, she discovers an old man on the moon, millions of light years away. Like her, the old man is alone with no one to talk to, and very sad. :’-(   While he is unaware that he is being  watched, the girl finds him, shares his pain of loneliness, and tries many things to get his attention, to show that he is not alone. She succeeds in the end but in a fashion as seen below:

This story reminds me of one time, a while back while teaching at the university, I met a pair of college students- one male and one female, who came from two different areas of the world. The girl was from eastern Germany, the boy from Russia near Moscow. Both were very lonely and had a hard time making friends. The Russian tried to reach out to the German and open up. No matter how hard he tried, she was cold as ice and stiff as stone to him, as if she was afraid of him. After many attempts to communicate with her (which she didn’t like chatting), he gave up but not before telling her, “It never pays to be choosy. Sometimes you need to open up to those in need, just once, to understand a person and love him for who he is.”  A couple weeks later, she invited him to the Scottish evening dance at a lecture hall not far from where my office was located. It was afterwards that they opened up and became friends. ❤ 🙂

Loneliness is a commodity that no one really needs to suffer. Many of us are lonely for a reason. Some are that way because they lost their loved ones. Others because they are strangers in a new environment  with no people to talk to. And then there are some with many problems in life that they cannot handle them. In either case, sometimes it pays to spend some time with the lonely ones, not just to be there, but to understand the person’s story and find ways to help that person find his/her way to happiness. Christmas time has always been a season of perpetual hope and by showing kindness, no matter how far away the person is or what circumstances or background the person has, shows a long way.

John Lewis has long since been known to have spectacular Christmas commercials in the past. However, this one, together with the previous profile, may have cleaned house as far as winning various international accolades are concerned, because they both address the sides of Christmas that many of us choose to ignore but should address in order for everyone to profit from the holiday season. And for that, hats off to the people who really made views, including the author of the Files tear up. You’ve just made the Files’ list of Genres for people to have a look at- and right in time for the holidays! 🙂


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