Cracking Open the Tale of the Nutcracker
Originating in the 15th century, the carved wooden nutcracker was created in rural Germany, as its name would imply, to crack open nuts. A popular tale tells of a miserly farmer who was unable to eat the walnuts he grew on his property because their hard shells were too difficult to open. He enlisted an old puppet carver who produced the first nutcracker puppet with a mouth and jaw strong enough to crack a walnut shell. The farmer was so pleased that he built a workshop for the puppet carver and showered the village with gifts.
Thought to protect the home and bring good luck, most nutcrackers today are used in festive displays rather than to open nuts. Modern spins on the traditional soldier nutcracker vary widely, in guise of fun takes on Santa to eclectic multicultural icons, with many intriguing styles making for beloved collectors' items.