The Nutcracker: More Than Just a Holiday Decoration

by Gregory Burton

The Nutcracker is a timeless symbol of Christmas that needs no introduction. You might even have one on display as part of your holiday décor. But do you know how the Nutcracker became such a prized Christmas staple? The first Nutcracker was developed in Europe centuries ago, well before the ballet was ever written. So how did it get here? We’ll explore how the first Nutcracker figurine came to be and why it’s more than just a holiday decoration.

 It All Started in the Late 17th Century

The most popular origin story for the nutcracker explains how a wealthy farmer was frustrated by the slow process of shelling nuts. He wanted to improve his productivity so he offered a reward to the person who could come up with the best solution for cracking nuts. A puppet maker won the challenge by producing a lever-mouthed doll that could shell the nuts in record time. The design was perfected in the late 17th century in the Ore Mountains of Germany known as the Erzgebirge region.

From Hand Crafted to Manufactured

The first models were crafted by hand and made to resemble authority figures that would crack nuts with their mouths. At first, they were not associated with any particular holiday but over time they would change from being functional in nature to an ornamental traditional Christmas figurine. Since demand was so high for these unique hand-carved dolls, they were soon replaced with manufactured ones that could be produced in factories and shipped across Europe. 

When the Nutcracker Came to America

Americans had not yet been exposed to the Nutcracker doll until the war. Those who were stationed in Germany during the Second World War started to take notice of the unique doll and would bring them home as souvenirs for their families.

The Nutcracker Wasn’t Always a Soldier

Then demand for the dolls started to soar in America following the release of the Nutcracker ballet. The most popular Nutcracker designed to date is still the wooden soldier doll that was presented as a gift to Clara in the classic tale. However, the Nutcracker wasn’t only made in the image of a soldier. In the past, it was carved to represent many authority figures like kings and gendarmes. According to German folklore, the Nutcracker would also bring luck to the family and protect their home. They were made to represent power and strength, like a watchdog that would guard over the family, scare away evil spirits, and provide good fortune.

Today, nutcrackers are still a sought-after collector’s item. There’s even a nutcracker museum in Washington. If you’d like to purchase a traditional German nutcracker for your holiday collection, visit us at Frankenmuth Clock Company to see our wonderful selection.