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The History of The Nutcracker

Why The Nutcracker is a Popular Christmas Tradition
A nutcracker with pine branches
Camilla Valletta
A nutcracker with pine branches

It’s the holiday season, and everyone is getting ready. Stores are getting their winter decorations out. Parents are getting presents for their children. Ballerinas are practicing for the well-known Nutcracker. Family and friends gather in the theater to watch this ballet while behind the scenes, stage crew members rush around to find their positions and place props in the right locations. The audience marvels at the perfectly in-sync choreography while performers hide the small mistakes, whether it be a spotlight shown in the wrong spot or a dancer cued in at the wrong time.

No matter what, a lot of work goes into the production of The Nutcracker. This Christmas tradition has become a vital part of American culture. Michaela Cavallo, a senior at Pennridge High School who performed many Nutcracker ballets, even goes on to say that, “The Nutcracker is a true American ballet.” It even has various adaptations such as Barbie and The Nutcracker, Care Bear Nutcracker Suite, Mickey Mouse Nutcracker, and Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale. There was a lot of build-up to The Nutcracker’s success. One of the biggest contributors is the variety of roles, especially roles for younger children. These roles allow beginners to be part of a large production and allow them to move up to bigger roles each year. When children are in The Nutcracker, parents are encouraged to see it and may invite family members to see it as well.

That was especially true for Susannah Gruver. She started ballet when she was two years old, continued with ballet for 14 years, and has been in multiple Nutcracker performances. Her mother, Julie Gruver, as well as her extensive family, have seen her perform The Nutcracker. Julie says, “It’s a proud parent moment to see your child on stage.” These feelings are why family members go out to see The Nutcracker. Because of the variety of roles, performers and family members can enjoy the ballet for multiple years. There is also a special part of performing that makes performers want to be a part of The Nutcracker. Both Susannah and Michaela talk about the special feeling they have when performing and how performers have an appreciation for the hard work that goes into the production of The Nutcracker. They mention how amazing it feels to perform on stage.

Despite The Nutcracker being a significant part of the Christmas tradition, many people, even performers, don’t know the origins of the Nutcracker. What might come as a surprise to some people is that The Nutcracker was originally a book. The book titled, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” was written in 1816 by E.T.A. Hoffman. The music for the Nutcracker, The Nutcracker Suite, was composed by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and performed for the first time on March 19, 1892. Tchaikovsky was a well-known Russian composer whose compositions include Swan Lake, a very popular piece, and The Sleeping Beauty, later to be the inspiration for the Disney Movie. The Nutcracker Suite premiere was very successful. However, the people responded differently to the ballet.

Russian ballerinas performed The Nutcracker for the first time nine months after the music premiered. The Russian audience heavily criticized the ballet for having so many children and not having a clear story in the second act. At first, the ballet was not nearly as popular as the music. This changed in 1917 during the Russian Revolution when many Russians, including ballerinas and musicians, moved to America. Many people learned of The Nutcracker, and on Dec. 24, 1944, the Sans Francisco Ballet performed The Nutcracker for the first time in America.

The tradition of The Nutcracker performance was not set until 10 years after its first performance in America. The New York City Ballet performed an adaptation of The Nutcracker by George Balanchine and made it an annual tradition. After that, The Nutcracker became more and more popular. Today, it is a Christmas tradition that Americans of all ages can enjoy.


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About the Contributor
Camilla Valletta, Student Writer
Camilla Valletta, Grade 12. Her interests and hobbies include playing violin, reading, writing, and art. She plans to go to college and major in English and creative writing.

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