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RINDGE

Rebuilding tradition

After immigrating from Germany in the late 1800s,  Dennis Casey’s grandfather built a traditional holiday pyramid  popular at the time in his homeland. Going on nothing more than  a photo and some memories, Casey painstakingly built  a near replica as a way to honor his family, past and present

  • Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

  • Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

  • Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

  • Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

  • Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

  • Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

    Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.

    (Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

  • Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)
  • Dennis Casey built a traditional German pyramid, which he reassembles every Christmas at his home in Rindge. The design and displays are based on one built by his grandfather, a German immigrant.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Alyssa Dandrea)

RINDGE — As a young boy in the Swiss Alps of Germany, Dennis Casey’s grandfather, Paul Guenther, dreamed of making a traditional German pyramid in celebration of Christmas. He had seen pyramids in varying shapes and sizes throughout Germany, but never had the privilege of owning one himself.

But all that changed after Guenther immigrated on his own to America through Ellis Island in New York in approximately 1891 at the age of 17. Once he settled into the Fitchburg, Mass., area, Guenther would make his vision a reality as an adult and, unbeknownst to him at that time, give birth to a family tradition still treasured by his descendants today.

“I don’t know if he expected the tradition to live on as it did, but it certainly has,” said Casey in an interview with the Ledger-Transcript at his home in Rindge on Thursday.

The pyramid became a fixture of Casey’s childhood holiday celebrations. The animal and nativity figurines, lighted candles, as well as the colored ornaments suspended from the roof of each tier made the pyramid distinct, and each year Guenther would assemble it a little differently.

But in the decades that have passed since Guenther built his pyramid, Casey said, it was shared between family members in different states and the pieces have gone missing.

“Because it disappeared I went on a quest to find out what had happened to it,” Casey said. “When I realized it was gone, that’s when I said I would build one from scratch like my grandfather had done.”

And, that’s exactly what Casey did.

In the mid-1990s, Casey said he tried his hand at bringing back to life a family tradition that he and his relatives remembered with great nostalgia. Making the pyramid, though, wasn’t an easy task, he said. As someone not well versed in the origin of the Christmas pyramid in Germany, either, Casey said the project became an educational experience.

The pyramid as a Christmas tradition has its roots in the Erzgebirge mountains of Germany and the creation of the first pyramids date to the Middle Ages. The pyramids typically have several levels, where Christian motifs and scenes from everyday life are displayed. The pyramid Guenther built, like many of the pyramids built in his time, had candles at the base whose rising heat spun the propellers at the very top. Casey’s pyramid differs in that the candles and the propellers are powered electrically.

The development of the pyramids shows great variation in decoration, but most are made of wood and based on four-, six-, or eight-sided platforms along with a long pole in the middle, which serves as a central axle. The figurines and other Christmas objects are placed on the open platforms for viewing.

While the pyramid can often take the place of a Christmas tree in one’s home, Casey said big pyramids built for outside venues, such as marketplaces, town centers and parks have also become popular in Germany.

“They are so unique and unlike anything else you’re likely to see,” Casey said of the Christmas pyramids.

When building his own, Casey said he used old photos of the one his grandfather had built as a guide. The most difficult aspect of the pyramid to construct, he noted, was the propeller at the top.

“I wasn’t sure how to build it,” he said. “The more I thought about it the more I avoided it. And then, I was frustrated that I could not find a Christmas stencil to decorate it.”

Casey said the more he analyzes the old photos, he begins to notice details in his grandfather’s work that he wants to incorporate into his own pyramid. The opportunities to change up the various elements that make up the pyramid are endless, he said.

“It’ll never really be finished,” Casey said. “I do have a plan for this year, though. I’m going to take a lot of pictures of each tier, put the elements in a box and then put it out next year the same way. From there, maybe I’ll make a few changes.”

While the pyramid that is adorned in his living room has come a long way since it was first built, Casey said he is always on a mission to find antique glass ornaments to replace the newer, cheaper ones, which are currently placeholders. He said he would also like to have different sections of the tiers decorated in a way that themes from popular Christmas songs are represented.

“I already found one of the most difficult ones: chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” he smiled.

While Casey said he’s invited family to his home to see the pyramid, Dec. 23 marked an official gathering for all to enjoy it together. Last year, he said he held a similar get-together, which he called, “come see the pyramid day.”

“Everyone is thrilled it’s come back,” Casey said of the pyramid. “It’s something truly different and there is a whole history behind it that I’m still discovering.”

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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