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For a period of time lasting more than 5 millennia, fragrant incense, the same as gold, spices and jewels, has long been one of the most important gifts that could have been bestowed upon royalty and noblemen. It has also been very closely connected with religion and religious belief. Nearly everyone knows the story in the bible that speaks of the Three Kings offering up presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

imageThe importance of incense is alive and well in a lot of today's German celebrations. Continuing on with a time-honored German tradition, January 6th brings around the Heilige Drei Konig (Three Wise Men) celebration. The festivity of the Three Wise Men is a state holiday in some areas in Germany.

The Raunachte is another significant time of the season. It gets started on Christmas Day evening and takes place until January 6th. It covers 12 nights, the last 6 nights of the old year and the first 6 of the new year. Longstanding beliefs and customs have developed across these twelve nights. In keeping with German beliefs, Odin, the huntsman, is believed to move over the sky all through these long winter nights, terrifying every person who runs into him as he moves through the night. Odin isn't the only one to be on the prowl during these nights, but also Odin's wife, Frau Holle.

Quite possibly the most feared of all is Berchta. She is named as the goddess of wintry weather. She is supposedly moves through the countryside and lets herself into residences on Twelfth Night. She would find out whether or not children and younger laborers had toiled diligently all through the year. They might possibly be rewarded with a small coin if they had accomplished their tasks properly. If they had performed poorly, it was said that she would slash their tummies open and stuff them with gravel, sticks or hay. Berchta was primarily determined to find out that girls had spun their full measure of wool in the past year.

Religious beliefs mixed with superstition resulted in people that were convinced that the wicked spirits of the Raunaechte (longest nights within the year) could be driven off by loud sounds and bright lights. After all of the bad spirits had been driven from the house, the believers would then light incense to bless the residence. Incense would be moved to every room within the house during the feast of Epiphany, New Year's Eve and Christmas Eve in hopes of trying to keep the bad spirits at bay. From these beliefs emerged the importance of the use of incense among German folk. At this point in time, fragrant incense was burnt in the open, but this would soon change for better.

After the 30 year war came to an end, the beliefs of ancient religious leaders and ordinary folk ended up being joined together to contribute to new techniques involving burning incense. Rauchermann, or smoking men figurines, came into being. Smoker figurines are classic hand carved wood characters that began in the Miriquidi Forest, which is now called the Erzgebirge Mountains.

Many years ago the Erzgebirge Mountains were excavated for minerals and precious metals. The folk that normally would perform duties in the mines during the working day would often be found crafting wood toy figurines at night. Ultimately, when discovering precious metal from the mountains began to be depleted, which resulted in the closing of the mines, many of the original miners became wooden toy makers full time.

Incense smokers became one of the items the miners made from wood. They generally resembled small reproductions of people who actually resided and worked in the community. Blacksmiths, mail carriers, anglers, cooks, and in many cases, the village folk themselves were depicted in the forms of smoking men.

One of Germany's most recognized crafting families is the Steinbach family, that has been producing German folk art for five whole generations, has mastered the making of creating nutcrackers and smoking men figurines. Each one of their smoking men represent a specific German character in fine detail. Each smoker and nutcracker has a individuality of its own. Steinbach and their smokers are known throughout the world for having superior craftsmanship, capabilities and giving great attention to fine detail.

Incense smokers have evolved into being a common decoration widely used as part of our modern holiday traditions through the years. Many individuals now use Steinbach incense smokers and nutcrackers to enhance their households all through the holiday season. The next time you spot a Steinbach smoker being displayed in a home, pay it a careful inspection. You might discover many exceptional details you hadn't noticed previously.

To view Steinbach Nutcracker and Smoker figurines just in time for the holidays, visit a German Collectibles Haus. .

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