One of the popular icons of this season comes in the form of a wooden man known as a nutcracker, made famous due to his starring role in the Tchaikovsky ballet of the same name. These guys can be found sporting a variety of colorful costumes, usually with large googly eyes and wildly tousled white troll hair that’s hidden under a large hat. The ballet itself is extremely long, and I got a little fidgety when going to see it as a child. When it was first performed, back in 1892, it was not a success, but the 20-minute suite containing the only songs anyone can remember was popular when performed in concert halls. The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is a definite earworm that most folks can hum if asked, as it’s impossible to stop hearing it once it’s played inside your head. Impressive to say the least. In truth, that little bit of haunting music box melody is a theme played throughout the Christmas season. I’ve honestly not been to see The Nutcracker ballet since I was a child, but I can still remember it to this day.
In the story of the ballet, a girl named Clara gets a nutcracker as a gift from her freaky godfather, and her brother immediately breaks it. She sneaks back to look at her broken toy at midnight and it springs to life and defends her as she gets attacked by giant mice. A war ensues complete with gingerbread soldiers, which is an unfortunate choice for an army, as the mice simply start eating them. More appropriate tin soldiers appear to help, and dolls hop in to tend to the wounded, as the fighting escalates. The Mouse King looks set to win just as Clara pegs him in the head with her slipper so her nutcracker can stab and kill him. This breaks a spell that’s never really explained and turns the wooden man into a prince in ballet tights. He takes Clara to the ballet where she watches people dressed as life-sized sweets from around the world perform, before being led to a throne, crowned a princess, and flown away on a sleigh with a guy she just met. At least that’s how I remember it. I’m sure there must have been more to it.
While I love the spectacle of it all, I was just hoping that there had been a bit more of a story. As a little boy, it felt like a bit of a bait and switch. It started with an interesting premise and action only to trick me into watching a ballet recital. That’s the point where I got fidgety. But it’s become a beloved classic and is performed each year by ballet troops all across the globe. I think I just wished that the wooden man could stay like he was as it seemed more magical that way. Plus, I wasn’t up for all that icky romantic stuff at that age. I far preferred the warring mice. These days, in honor of the season, you’ll find just a single ornament on our tree in honor of this effigy. Sometimes I stare at it, willing it to spring to life, but it never actually happens. I’m sure it’s simply that I’m older now and rarely awake at midnight these days. And maybe it’s for the best. I still have my childhood memories of that time I went to see a ballet about angry mice, dancing sweets, and a little nutcracker.
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