Towards a Little Seasonal Understanding: The Nutcracker

On my way to a Christmas market in Montreal, I passed a band of musicians, all made up as Nutcrackers. Some festive Nutcracker musiciansevent for Bentley Montreal.

When I arrived at the market, I was surrounded by Nutcrackers, both ornaments and real-people-as-nutcrackers.

I’ve never understood the attraction of the Nutcracker image for Christmas. (Yes, I do know about the Nutcracker Ballet!)

A soldier with teeth bared in a grimace – what’s so seasonal and joyous about that?

nutcracker ornamentI actually find it (sorry) quite ugly. Very ugly.

What on earth do others find so irresistible about the image?

I Googled ‘Nutcracker’ to try and find out.

And discovered, first of all, that the original Nutcrackers were… actual nutcrackers! The nut goes between the teeth of these real nutcrackers, a lever in the back is pressed down et voilà!

The first nutcrackers, from Germany, were whittled from wood.

When I read that, I immediately remembered being surprised by my father’s delight in Austrian folk art carvings of odd little faces suggested by strange knots and knuckles and grain in the wood. Such weird, ugly faces, I’d thought as a kid. I didn’t like the way the eyes in those faces looked at me. I refused to look back at them or touch them.

But the joke is on me. Now, when I’m walking in the woods, I’m always seeing other-world faces in tree trunks and branches.

The decorative Nutcrackers, which started in late 1400s and early 1500s, were considered good luck:

The legend says that a nutcracker represents power and strength and serves like a trusty watch dog guarding your family from evil spirits and danger. A fierce protector, the nutcracker bares its teeth to the evil spirits and serves as the traditional messenger of good luck and goodwill. History of Nutcrackers

Ah! A protector, baring teeth to scare away evil spirits.

Now the teeth make sense! Even if they no longer actually crack nuts.

I particularly like the idea of the Nutcrackers being a way to laugh at figures of authority, a form of social satire:

People enjoyed using the German nutcrackers that were shaped like the ruling and authoritative classes because it reduced them to the position of mere crackers of nuts rather than possessing any power over their individual Christkindl Markt

Why don’t we create some contemporary Nutcrackers with this idea in mind?

I now quite enjoy seeing the Nutcrackers around town!

Amazing how a little understanding has helped me find pleasure in something I actively disliked!

nutcracker ornament

To watch how a Nutcracker is made

For the history of Nutcrackers