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Traditional German Christmas Smokers and Nutcrackers with some Modern Twists
Nutcrackers are way a more complicated ornament than I ever imagined – a long and interesting history these Nutcrackers have. So I thought the children’s book – The Nutcracker and the Mouse King – would make everything easier. It’s a children’s book after all. But no – the story of the Nutcracker is terribly convoluted and ripe for a Blog article!
The story by E.T.A. Hoffmann written in 1816 is a classic German fairy tale – kind of gruesome and more than a little scary (those poor German kids!). But it was the premise upon which Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet was based and got the whole world talking about Nutcrackers.
But where did these unusual Christmas decorations come from and how did they get their big heads and big teeth?
According to German folklore, Nutcrackers were given as keepsakes to bring good luck to a family and protect the home. Legend claims that Nutcrackers represent power and strength and guard the family and home 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.
Supposedly Nutcrackers have been around since the 1400’s. Back then they could probably even crack a nut – these days they’re just for decoration. And they come in every size and in almost countless costumes from the traditional soldiers, knights and kings to…well you name it (I’ve seen Darth Vader Nutcrackers, Shrek…). I took this picture at the Nussknackermuseum (Nutcracker Museum) in the small town of Neuhausen Germany. The oldest Nutcracker in this image was made in 1870 but there are older models at the museum.
Then there’s the whole story about the Cycle of Life: The wooden Nutcracker cracks open the nut, the seed falls to the ground and grows into a tree, the wood from that tree is carved into a Nutcracker. The whole concept breaks down when the guy cracking the nut open eats the what’s inside and no tree grows!
Another part of the Nutcracker folklore is the idea that these carvings were a bit of a political statement. Most of the carvings made in the Erzgebirge region of Germany – the capital of German wooden folk art – were toys or religious motifs. The Nutcracker was the first of the carved figures to represent positions of authority – cruel soldiers or police officers, unpopular kings or corrupt religious officials. Perhaps a way of reducing the ruling classes to mere crackers of nuts.
Nutcrackers are a wonderful Collector’s item as new designs are introduced by artisan each year. There are whole museums of Nutcrackers both in Germany and the United States. Although the designs have been copied by Chinese firms mass producing the figures, true collectors prefer the handcrafted Nutcrackers made by artisans in the Seiffen area of Germany. Some of these family-run workshops have been in the craft for generations.
Gingerbread World offers an assortment of Nutcrackers along with authentic German Smokers, Pyramids and Nativity Scenes. It was so hard to choose which designs to import from Germany – there are so many workshops to choose from each with their own motifs. We are excited to have partnered with Seiffener Volkskunst and Richard Glässer to bring their beautiful items to Canada.
Owner @ Gingerbread World