December 3, 2010

Nussknacker -- an American holiday tradition

If you go shopping in December, it doesn't matter if it's Walmart or a high end department store, you'll  see Nutcrackers for sale.  Did you ever stop and wonder how nutcrackers came to be part of the American holiday tradition?

Nutcrackers - a holiday tradition

Nutcrackers (oder Nussknacker auf Deutsch) originated in the Erzegebirge region of Germany (formerly East Germany), a part of Germany located between Saxony and Bohemia in the Czech Republic and virtually unkown to most Americans.  So how then did nutcrackers come to America?

The story goes back to the 15th century when the discovery of silver and tin in region led to the growth of the mining industry.    And to support the mining industry was the timber industry -- as the wood was needed to frame the tunnels deep into the earth.  So on those long winter nights, many miners and timber-workers, carved wooden figures as a hobby.  And later when the mining industry declined, what had been a hobby turned into a new industry.

Another important thing to know about Germany, is the prevalence of Weihnachtsmarkte in each city and town.  Another great German Christmas tradition.   Wooden huts are erected in the town plazas and shops open in the evening selling ornaments, food and other handmade gifts.  The biggest, probably the most famous is in Nuremburg.   Some of the families making nutcrackers, and wooden ornaments were smart enough to take their wares to Nuremburg to market.

Weihnachtsmarkt in Nuernberg

So that is how the Nussknacker started to spread throughout Germany  -- but how did they get to the US?  Well, they've only been popular in the US for the last 60 years.  So the end or World War II.  American GIs returning from Germany brought the wonderful, whimsical nutcrackers back with them.

Legend has it that the nutcrackers protect their owners by baring their teeth at bad luck and evil spirits.  Thus bringing a nutcracker back home was a way of protecting it.

And of course, the popularity of  Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" also helped spread both their popularity and the association with the Christmas holiday season.

Today many people collect nutcrackers.  The Clamber Hill nutcracker collections started over 25 years ago and has grown.  Our trip to the town of Seiffen in the Erzegebirge increased it greatly and we now have  over 30  nutcrackers in our collection which is on display every December.  In fact, the 12th annual Clamber Hill  Holiday Open House is coming up on December 5th from 1 to 4 pm.  Clamber Hill is located at 111 North Main St in Petersham MA and if you're anywhere in the area we invite you to stop in.   If you don't make it then, just book yourself into the Inn any night this holiday season.

The Clamber Hill Nutcracker Collection on Display

Happy Holidays und Froehliche Weihnachten!

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