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What Is a Nutcracker?

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What Is a Nutcracker?

Nutcracker

Photo © Tracy Wicklund
Question: What Is a Nutcracker?
My family loves seeing The Nutcracker Ballet each year, but what exactly is a "nutcracker?"
Answer: A nutcracker is an instrument used to crack nuts, typically consisting of two hinged metal levers between which the nut is squeezed. According to German folklore, nutcrackers bring good luck to your family and protect your home. A nutcracker is said to represent power and strength, serving somewhat like a watch dog guarding your family from danger. A nutcracker bares its teeth to evil spirits and serves as a messenger of good luck and goodwill. Long ago, rare or unusual nutcrackers were part of the social dining tradition. Serving as whimsical conversation pieces, guests lingered at the table enjoying shelled treats such as pecans and hazelnuts.

The Nutcracker Ballet greatly popularized the nutcracker. When the holiday ballet became popular in the United States in the early 1950’s, demand for nutcrackers increased tremendously. Today, many people collect themed nutcrackers, displaying them during the holidays or even throughout the year. However, the most popular nutcracker remains the wooden nutcracker doll presented as a Christmas gift to Clara. Dressed as a soldier, it is crushed by Clara’s jealous brother, Fritz. It is gently tucked under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, coming to life at the stroke of midnight.

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