What is the Story Behind the German Nutcracker?

by Austin Perron

A staple at Christmastime, these brightly coloured and iconic-looking figurines originated as folklore and eventually found their way into homes across the world. The history of the nutcracker starts in Germany. Tools to crack nuts open had been around for centuries, but none so memorable perhaps as this toy soldier. Although many nutcrackers made over the past few decades are more decorative and less functional per se, they continue to bring joy at any time of year. 

Let’s learn more about this beloved little German icon together, shall we?

A Centuries-Old Tale

As told by Rittenhouse in the late 17th century, a rich farmer found that cracking nuts open was detrimental to his proficiency, and offered a reward for anyone in the village who could solve his problem. The story goes that a carpenter offered to saw them open, a soldier suggested he shoot the nuts, but a puppet maker was the one who prevailed. He presented the farmer with a brightly painted wooden doll with a strong jaw that could crack the nuts easily. Some versions even say he was rewarded with his own toy shop. 

Early Production and Expert Craftsmanship

The nutcracker in German homes started gaining popularity as a symbol of good luck. Before long, the towns of Sonneberg and Seiffen, which is located in the rzgebirge region(Ore Mountains) began making them. Originally, the mountains were a profitable endeavor for miners but eventually, the riches dried up. The craftsmen developed their woodworking skills, as there was ample material in the region for this skill. They began carving toys and puzzles, including nutcrackers. They also began crafting other items such as Smokers, Pyramids and Schwibbogen.

It was typical for a home to have one tiny soldier on the mantle to protect the property and its household from bad spirits. In the early 19th century, the craftsmen began to bring the nutcrackers with them on cross-continental trips, selling them throughout Europe.

Christmas Association

Eventually, nutcrackers became more Christmas-themed and took on a seasonal significance. This is likely because soldiers who returned to America after the First World War brought them back as gifts, just in time for the holiday season. 

Previously, in 1816, E.T.A Hoffman wrote the beloved story of The Nutcracker and The Mouse King. It’s a tale of how, on Christmas Eve, a little girl’s beloved nutcracker comes to life and defeats an evil mouse king. The figurine then brings her to a magical kingdom full of dolls. A popular tradition in many families during this season is attending ballets that are related to the nutcracker, further associating it with Christmas.

The history of the nutcracker in Germany dates back hundreds of years and is still an emblematic piece of craftsmanship and innovation today. At Frankenmuth Clock Company, we are proud to carry these authentic, imported figurines that make great gifts for those who want to own a unique piece of history. Contact us to learn more about the German-made gifts we sell!