Nuts are a staple product come Christmas time.
The Nutcracker ballet is a staple theatre
production, too. Combine the two and you have yourself a merry little nutcracker soldier man.
But where on earth did the nut-cracking device originate?
Believe it or not, it goes back to pre-historic times.
Ruins of stone nutcrackers go far back as 4000 B.C. Naturally such devices were not as elaborate as the ones we know today, but I suspect they got the job done just as well. Take two stones, and you can probably crush a lot of things.
Nomadic people would often camp by nut trees, and when the nuts fell, the nomads would crack them or crush them.
As the Dark Ages approached, nutcrackers were made from iron, typically in the fashion of two long rods, with a space between for the nut. As the Dark Ages transitioned to the latter Middle Ages, the “crackers” were made from wood. Eventually, the French and English thought it would be neat to carve wooden nutcrackers in the shape of human figures. Other parts of Europe followed suit and tried animal designs.
By the 19th century, the Germans started to produce nutcrackers resembling fairy tale-like soldiers. In fact, the Brothers Grimm even had the term Nussknacker in their dictionary.
How about the ballet?
I highly doubt Christmas nutcrackers would be as popular as they are today without the theatrical stylings of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. However, before the ballet, there was the book: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A Hoffman.
The book was successful in its own right, but when Tchaikovsky first premiered The Nutceracker in December 1892, it was not very successful. However, in the late 1940s, when the ballet was performed in the United States, it gained popularity. During this same time-period nutcracker soldier devices were being introduced to the North America by veterans returning from Europe after World War II.
So, where does the nutcracker soldier fit into today’s culture?
Mostly for decorative and entertainment purposes.
Some nutcracker soldiers are quite elaborate, adorned with sequins, silk capes and jeweled crowns. They are purely ornamental, and it would probably not be a good idea to crack an actual nut with.
In fact, you might be better off using a steel nut-cracking device — similar in concept to the ancient ones.
Yes, the nutcracker implement has definitely come a long way since its ancient beginnings. I wonder what the nomads would have thought if they knew what the future held for their simple stone device.