Nuts, or tree nuts if you will, are one of my favorite treats and have been a part of my Christmas celebrations as long as I can remember. Christmas wasn’t the only time I got to feast on nuts as a child. Daddy used to bring home a paper bag with a pound or two of mixed nuts from winter trips to town. Mama would spread papers on the floor and the nuts would be poured onto the paper, then armed with the usual U-shaped metal crackers, my brothers and sisters and I would dive in. Being one of the younger and smaller children, I had difficulty managing the nut cracker, and too often got stuck with peanuts while my older brothers wielded the crackers and gorged on walnuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, and hazelnuts. I’ll admit I resorted to borrowing Daddy’s hammer on occasion to make certain I got my share of the good nuts.
Once when I was very young, my parents took me to visit someone, I have no idea now who the person was other than that he herded sheep, but this person had a marvelous nutcracker. It was made of metal, looked like a battered soldier, and had a lever on the back that when operated opened and closed the soldier’s mouth. When a nut was placed between the soldier’s ragged steel teeth and the lever employed, voila! The nut cracked. I was in love! I dreamed of having a nutcracker like that.
Sometime later I happened on a story about a little girl named Clara who received a soldier nutcracker as a gift, which her brother promptly broke. I could relate to that, having two younger brothers and three older ones. The man who gave Clara the nutcracker repaired it on Christmas Eve while she slept. Also while she slept, she was attacked by mice. The soldier nutcracker came to life and, along with sugarplum-filled adventures, saved her from the mice and became her hero. The story was a great fairytale, but I was more interested in the nutcracker’s practical application, getting those pesky hard shells off of nuts.
I was an adult with children of my own when I finally saw Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet. It was a thrilling performance, but the part of me that was once a little girl who loved eating nuts, still loves the doll-like nutcrackers more than the fairy tale or the ballet. Long ago I began acquiring nutcracker dolls whenever I got a chance. Mine aren’t the expensive collectors’ nutcrackers, but they’re of invaluable worth to me and are an essential part of my Christmas decorations.
My first nutcracker was a reward for spending so much money on other things at a local furniture store. He’s not much good for cracking nuts, but I like him. He's the one in the blue coat. The Canadian Mountie is a souvenir from a wonderful trip to Victoria with my husband, our daughter, Mary Jo, and her husband, Rich.
My second nutcracker came from ZCMI the year I decided to buy myself a gift. He's the tall one in the red coat on the bookcase shown below.
When family and friends discovered my fondness for nutcrackers, I was inundated with the dolls. Suddenly everyone knew what to get me for Christmas. I received tall nutcrackers, short ones, characters from the ballet on a music box, and even nutcrackers for the twelve days of Christmas.
My daughter Lezlie made a special nutcracker for me to commemorate 9-11 and to honor the brave firemen who lost their lives trying to save others that day.
My grandson, Brandon’s favorite nutcracker is the one wearing Army fatigues he calls the “daddy one.”
All of my grandchildren love the big nutcracker and try to entice each other to put their fingers in his mouth. Fortunately none have gotten hurt. Even this nutcracker will only crack soft shell nuts.
I’ve never been too sure what nutcrackers have to do with Christmas except for the fairytale/ballet which is set at Christmastime and that in earlier times, children, like I once was, received nuts in our Christmas stockings. But gradually, I’ve developed my own reason for decking my home with nutcrackers each Christmas. Just as the Christ Child was a gift of love to God’s children, my nutcrackers represent the love family and friends have given me. They’re bright and colorful and make delightful decorations, but sometimes I think about that old sheepherder and wonder what became of his marvelous nutcracker. As much as I love all my nutcrackers, not a one of them will crack a decent nut.