Ever wonder how these quintessential Christmas soldier-dolls came to be? Calling to mind sugarplum fairies, the magical ballet performance and the festive holiday season, nutcracker dolls trace their origins back to German mountain villages in the 17th century – they were made alongside wooden toys in German workshops in the Erzgebirge region. Initially, they weren’t linked to the holidays at all, though they were often given as gifts and were considered a symbol of protection and good luck.
But why the iconic solider-doll form? According to one popular German folktale, a rich but lonely farmer thought the process of cracking nuts took away from his productivity, so he offered a reward to the villager who could devise the best solution. Each one used his particular skill or expertise – a carpenter provided a way to saw the nuts open, a soldier came up with a way to shoot them, and so on. However, as the folktale goes, it was the clever puppetmaker who claimed the reward with his distinctive lever-mouthed wooden doll. Local toymakers began carving nutcrackers in this fashion and it became the classic form of nutcracker that all families had at home. Since German households typically did not have more than one nutcracker per family, toymakers eventually began selling them elsewhere, such as Russia, Poland and Norway. The popularity of the dolls skyrocketed, and by the 1870s, nutcracker dolls were being produced in factories.
Nutcrackers received even more attention when Peter Tchaikovsky adapted E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, which of course features an on-stage manifestation of the wooden doll. Though first performed in St. Petersburg in 1892, the ballet wasn’t widely performed until much later – the mid-20th century. The ballet, along with World War II, carried nutcracker dolls stateside. Many soldiers who were in Germany visited open markets and fairs, and discovered the whimsical little wooden dolls. Enjoying the tradition behind the dolls, and the protection and good luck they symbolized, many soldiers returned home with a nutcracker doll for their families. This, combined with the introduction of the beloved Nutcracker ballet to the U.S., inspired an enduring nutcracker tradition that families continue throughout the country.
Happy Holidays from Oceania Cruises!