Nutcrackers started out simple and useful ways of cracking open the hard shells of nuts. In some regions of Germany, there were many mines and miners. During the winter months, the miners carved dolls, nutcrackers, that actually resembled the powerful people in their poor lives. They loved carving policemen, soldiers and even kings, because they enjoyed seeing their superiors performing the lowly task of cracking open nuts. When the mines were stripped, the miners kept carving their nutcrackers full time. Changes came over the years and eventually the moving jaw and the name nut-biter and then nutcracker came into existence.
These unusual, wooden figures with their long beards, big mouths, harsh looks and large heads are considered, by legend, to represent strength and power. According to German folklore, nutcrackers are protectors of family and home and represent goodwill and good luck.
Nutcrackers are also conversation pieces where all types of funny characters and unique pieces bring laughter and interesting nutcracker stories to the dinner table. Guests would stand around the desserts, cracking pecans and hazelnuts and talk about the nutcrackers that symbolized the “Cycle of Life” for them. The Germans felt that a seed drops into the ground and a tree grows providing nourishment for the woodcutters for hundreds of years. The legend says that the people had feasts before harvesting the logs. At the feasts, they ate fruit and nuts so they could take part in the cycle of life represented by their nutcrackers.
During World War II, American soldiers returning home from the war often brought home these intriguing nutcrackers as keepsakes with their legendary ability to bare their teeth at the evil spirits and protect one’s home and family. That’s how, in the early 1950’s, the nutcracker made it to the United States. The “Nutcracker Suite” reached the United States about the same time. The ballet, based on the play written by T. A. Hoffmann called “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”, sparked more interest in nutcrackers and increased the desire of people to purchase and collect nutcrackers.
The Steinbach Family, originally from Austria, has been producing nutcrackers for almost two centuries, starting in 1832. They continue to be an outstanding producer of nutcrackers and their nutcrackers are great collectibles. When the Steinbachs decided to make limited edition nutcrackers, the value of collecting became more appealing because the value of limited pieces would be greater. Steinbach is recognized all over the world for their fine craftsmanship and unique nutcrackers characters.
There are many other producers of less expensive nutcrackers and they come in a great variety of designs. You can get Mary and Joseph Nutcrackers, a nutcracker Santa from almost any country or a nutcracker for every branch of the service. There are firemen, policemen, surfers, snowboarders and ball player nutcrackers, too.
If you need a unique gift for a friend or family member with a hobby or special interest, you can probably find a nutcracker for them. When company comes over this Christmas, you may want to add a bowl of nuts and a nutcracker to the table to stimulate the conversation and start a new tradition.