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  • A Very Bavarian Christmas (Behind the Scenes)

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    I love the end of the year because it is always such a great excuse to try new projects, especially as gifts! This holiday season, my main experiment was trying to make a birthday/Christmas present for my mom.

    Click through to read more details about the project!

    Since I was a little, my mom has collected German Christmas decorations – pyramids, Schwibbogen, the works. From displaying them around the house to lighting them and crossing our fingers that they won’t burst into flame during Christmas Eve dinner, they have become a huge part of our family traditions around the holidays. 

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    Erzebirge Pyramid + Crab Legs = Talsma Christmas Eve Done Right

    In 2006, FAO Schwarz and Neiman Marcus paired up to produce an enormous and extravagant advent calendar designed in the same German tradition. After seeing it in their catalog, my mom fell in love with it and thought it would be the perfect addition to her collection, but with a $1,125 price tag, it was out of the question. We all ogled it from a distance and were not surprised when it disappeared rather quickly. 

    When my mom’s birthday rolled around this year, the rest of my family had a pow wow about the perfect gift and realized that, since 2007, we had all independently searched for The Calendar or Calendar equivalents every year. But to our dismay, each year turned up nothing, except this immortal blog post with a few pictures (presumably snatched from the FAO site back in the day.)

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    The only images that exist of the original. So small. So pixelated! Made it a bit tough to use as reference.

    Now, here comes the fun part. After experimenting a bit with laser cutting over the last couple of years and getting very familiar with Illustrator, I got it in my head that we could try to recreate the thing. From scratch. Probably one of the crazier ideas I’ve ever had, but I was excited to take a creative risk and even happier when [spoiler] it all worked out in the end!

    The process included a multitude of steps. Like, so many steps I didn’t even fathom when we started out. It was such a trip!

    I started with an Illustrator file, trying to mock up a design based on the reference image. I ended up doing the design twice, the first kind of winging it and the second spending more time figuring out how to optimize the design for the materials we wanted to use. 

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    The final Illustrator document. The paths were separated, duplicated, and rearranged in individual documents for cutting.

    Once the structure  was designed, we also needed to find little figurines for each window. Based on the original, there are little scenes that are revealed behind each window when you spin it. Since the windows were slightly smaller for this model, we decided to include one figure behind each. We searched all over to try to find the right pieces and ended up with a sort of wacky assortment (normal wintry animals, like deer and a beaver and vole for good measure.)

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    The final version with all our tiny, festive pieces!

    When we found the appropriate pieces and did a foam mockup to make sure everything would work, it was time to cut! The laser cutter was able to get about 80% of the pieces finished, but my fearless dad and I did have to cut a few by hand during various stages of the assembly process.

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    Painting. Painting. Painting.

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    Cutting very precise spindle wells for the windows to spin around.

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    Bringing it all together, slowly but surely.

    The final product! Took a few major calculations right at the end to finish the midsection of the roof and dormers, but we did get it wrapped up in time for the last days of Advent.

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    So pleased with how the project came together and excited to try a more original design next year (maybe with fewer windows, definitely with fewer windows.)

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    P.S. A little GIF to show the calendar in all its window-spinning glory!