The Ore Mountains in East Germany are the stronghold of the Christmas nutcracker production. Steinbach, Dregeno and Christian Ulbricht nutcrackers are just a few of the well-known German manufacturers, who satisfy the needs of the world-wide fan base.
1. How did nutcrackers originate?
Wooden nutcrackers already existed before Christ and its invention is attributed to Aristoteles. Even Leonardo da Vinci tried to come up with a machine for woodturning to create a well-working nutcracker.
The first nutcracker figurines showed up in Europe during the 16th century. The English King Heinrich VIII gave his 2nd wife Anna Boleyn an artfully carved nutcracker figurine.
Multiple theories about how the nutcracker came to the Ore Mountains: One is that there was a rich and lazy farmer who loved to eat walnuts. Even the effort to crack the nuts open was too much work for him. So, he wrote out a competition that whoever gave him a tool to easily open the walnut would get a reward. A doll carver in town heard it and built him a nutcracker figurine. The farmer loved the tool so much that he built the doll carver an entire factory to create more of them.
Right after 1800, when the mining business in the Ore Mountains was in a down-turn, people there started spending their evening and cold, long winters by carving wooden toys, furniture and figurines. Known through fairy-tale and picture book, the nutcracker had become a popular, useful tool. People in the Ore Mountains saw the wooden nutcracker as great item to boost their meager salary on the side.
2. Why do many nutcrackers look a little scary?
In 1870, the first nutcracker was wood-turned that resembles today’s popular base-shape. The nutcracker was a miner in its parade uniform with a crown on his head.
Many nutcrackers were designed based on authority figures in the upper class, such as soldiers, police men and kings. It was an ongoing joke that at least during the holiday day, they could stuff its jaws with nuts and make these “authority figures” work for them by cracking nuts. This way, even well-known historical figures like Napoleon and Bismarck had to crack nuts!
3. How did the German Christmas Nutcracker become famous?
In 1816, the German author E.T.A. Hoffmann, known for his fantasy and horror novels, wrote a novel called “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”. This story became quite popular across Europe. Just a few years later in 1844, the French writer Alexandre Dumas wrote a similar story based on Hoffmann’s novel “The Nutcracker” (Histoire d’un casse-noisette). Tchaikovsky liked this story and composed “The Nutcracker” ballet, which is probably the most popular ballet today!
4. How are original German Christmas nutcrackers made?
To produce a German Christmas nutcracker, it takes about 130 work steps. The type of wood used is mostly linden, spruce or beech. It must be dry and well-matured.
5. How did the German Christmas nutcracker make it to America?
World War II is to blame here. When the GIs visited the German Christmas markets and found these intriguing figurines. They took them home to the US as a gift. Soon they became popular collectibles.
6. Crazy nutcracker facts
- About 80% of all nutcrackers built in Germany are exported, most of them to the USA.
- The tallest nutcracker at 5.87 meters (19ft 3 7⁄64 in) is a genuine Ore Mountain (Erzgebirge) nutcracker. It even cracks real nuts!
- Steinbach has created over 600 different types of nutcrackers, 150 of them in regular production and the rest limited editions
- Collectible nutcrackers are worth up to $10,000