Forget Russian-born Tchaikovsky – It’s the Germans who brought us the Nutcracker

When we think of a nutcracker, we think of the ballet. It’s hard to picture anything but little Clara proudly holding her odd, wooden, colorful “doll.” The whole world is fascinated with the figure, but where did it all start? It definitely didn’t start with Christmas Eve, it didn’t start with a gift for a young girl, and it certainly didn’t start with a French ballet corps in the late 19th century.

Back in the 1500s the Erzgebirge region of Germany was known for its mining. Silver, tin and cobalt were produced – until the mines ran dry. Faced with a crisis of income, the Germans turned to their next big resource: trees. Before long this small pocket of Europe was famous for its handmade wooden crafts. There was a flood of exports: whimsical items like ornaments and cuckoo clocks…and, of course, nutcrackers.

True to Their Name

The original nutcrackers were just that – objects made, literally, to crack nuts. They were simple plier-like tools fashioned in the shapes of birds and animals. But as craftsmanship skills grew, so did the complexity of the figures. Suddenly the Germans were creating detailed nutcrackers resembling kings, policemen and soldiers. These likenesses are what we see in the nutcracker figures today.

Over time, nutcrackers went from an after-thought to a must-have. A standard European dessert table is full of “sweetmeats” – hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts. It wasn’t enough to have a single nutcracker on hand. If you were keeping up with the Joneses, you had to have an array of the figures – both functional and decorative.

The Big Boost

Alright, let’s be fair here. German craftsmen can’t take all the credit…and it’s not just about the nuts. Nutcrackers would still be a specialty item if Tchaikovsky hadn’t adapted an 1816 E.T.A. Hoffman Christmas story (The Nutcracker and the Mouse King) into a ballet. Shockingly, the ballet wasn’t a big hit when it was first performed in 1892. It took a couple of world wars and a slew of American G.I.s carting nutcrackers home to the U.S. for the whole phenomenon to take off.

The ballet, the music and the iconic wooden figure became an American cottage industry by the mid 1900s.

Don’t Let The Face Fool You

If the nutcracker is so outrageously popular, why does it look so dour? Can’t it crack a smile?

Not really. The nutcracker is a protector. Its teeth are bared to “crack the nut” and, according to folklore, to ward off evil spirits.

Legend has it that the figure – whether 6 inches or 6 feet, even 12 feet tall – is the equivalent of trusty watch dog.

This inanimate “watch dog” has had the same look and the same job for centuries… with no end in sight.

Don’t mess with perfection.

OUR CREATIVE PROCESS

We design and build special crates with solid floors for Christmas Night's four legged animals
We design and build special crates with solid floors for Christmas Night’s four legged animals
PhilippineFactory-web
Finished Toy Soldiers line up ready to board the boat for USA
GiraffeModel-web
Working on model for Giant Giraffe
KingGaspar-web
King Gaspar waiting outside the factory
ModelsAlainRobert-web
Alain and Robert finishing models for Christmas Night’s 6 foot Giant nativity Set
PaintChanges-web
Making last minute changes to the paint colors before photography of the new 6 foot Nativity Set

From time to time we will share with you the process that we use to create our new and, in many cases, unique, decorative and religious figures. They all start in the mind , eyes and hands of Claire our very talented designer. The resulting images and dimensions are communicated to our factories electronically as is progress on each project. We also visit the factories at least twice a year to tweak and approve the designs. We also constantly work on improving our packaging so the product is delivered to you in perfect condition.

We have some pictures which will illustrate some example. Please note, we will not be offering the giraffe statue.

The History of Halloween Traditions

Jack-o'-lanterns
Halloween is definitely an underrated holiday. There’s no denying that it’s a lot of fun, but lets take a second to think about what it means to most people. Eating candy? A party? And that’s about it. For a lot of people it’s a very forgettable holiday. You think about it and then it’s over before you know it. When you stop and take a second to think about it, though, Halloween is really quite interesting. It originates from a Celtic holiday called “Samhain”, which is derived from an ancient Irish word meaning “summer’s end.” And when I think Halloween, I think three major traditions: pumpkins, costumes, and trick-or-treating. Here’s a brief history on why these traditions define Halloween today!

Pumpkins:

Pumpkin carving — a classic part of Halloween. But when you think about it, it’s actually kind of funny. Why do we do we display pumpkins? What’s the point of a jack-o-lantern? Long long ago, people of the Celtic religion would take turnips and use them to ward off evil spirits. They would carve out these turnips and put candles in them, and place them in front of their house. Over time, for one reason or another, we’ve adopted pumpkins as the fruit of choice. And yes, pumpkins are a fruit, that’s another fact for you! As with a lot of Irish history and old wise tales, you’ll never read exactly the same story about the origination about jack-o-lanterns. One old wise tale claims that an old drunken man named Jack had interactions with the devil, and when he died, he wasn’t allowed in heaven or hell. He roamed earth for a night with a turnip and a candle, and so it was Jack’s lantern.

Costumes:

In ancient history, those who celebrated Samhain were celebrating the end of a harvest, and they believed there were two parts to a year; a lighter half and a darker half. In the darker half, people would wear costumes to ward off evil spirits. But they weren’t the costumes you might think. They really just dressed up as people that would be in a church (example: a saint). In the late 1800’s, Halloween started to become more of a party for people to get together. And in even more recent times, Halloween started becoming a “dress-up” holiday. The baby boomer generation was really the start of all the costumes you see today.

Trick-or-Treating:

trick or treating
When you were a kid, you probably remember trick-or-treating as being a wonderful event. Who doesn’t love free candy? But where does it originate, you ask? In the mid 1800’s there was an Irish practice called “souling” and people would walk around villages asking for soul cakes. In exchange for a soul cake, the person souling would have to say a prayer for a dead relative of the person giving them a soul cake. The practice eventually got adapted into the modern day Halloween, and as what seems to happen with a lot of events, the religious aspect got forgotten about. And when America picked it up, it didn’t start as the ultimate candy holiday like it is today. People used to give things like apples, or sometimes money.

Which part of Halloween is your favorite? Let us know!

5 Reasons We Love Fall

The crisp breeze signifies that summer is gone and fall is in the air. We love fall; it has a beauty all to its own. From warm apple cider to autumn leaves, there are so many reasons to enjoy fall. Here are five things about the season that we love:

It's fall, really

The Changing Leaves

If you are blessed to live in a place where the leaves change color, you know why fall foliage is one of the reasons we love this season. Walking down a tree-lined street to see a canopy of orange, yellow and red leaves is thrilling. In Upstate New York, the leaves typically peak in late October. A good amount of colorful foliage lasts through Thanksgiving and even into the wintery months.

Fall Clothes

Fall clothing is just wonderful! As the temperature begins to drop, we take our fall essentials out of retirement. We’re talking about boots, sweaters and scarves. Nothing feels as delightful on a crisp fall day as a wool sweater and pair of comfortable boots. Well, maybe a cup of warm apple cider would make the day even better!

Pumpkin Everything

Whether it’s a baked good, drink or savory dish, when September rolls around and our taste buds salivate at the thought of all things pumpkin. Ice cream, coffee, pale ales, and more all come out in pumpkin flavors during the fall. Pumpkins can also make the best fall décor. Decorate your Thanksgiving table with a beautiful pumpkin centerpiece. Another seasonal favorite is pumpkin carving!

Thanksgiving

While Christmas is our favorite holiday, we really enjoy Thanksgiving too. This autumn holiday is special for a couple reasons. Thanksgiving has both religious and cultural traditions. Not only do you gather around a table and spend time with loved ones, but you also have the opportunity to reflect on all the things that you are thankful for. And we have a lot to be thankful for!

Christmas Planning

We simply adore Christmas and fall is the perfect time to think about to the holiday season. For instance, setting a holiday budget now will make it easier to achieve all your Christmas goals later. More important, planning early will allow you to enjoy the holiday season, rather than get caught up in the hustle and bustle. If you start Christmas planning now, you will reap benefits come December!

Tell us what you think. We want to know your favorite things about fall!

Celebrate Christmas in July!

Christmas in July is an unofficial holiday celebrated by many people. It is especially popular among people in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa because in the southern hemisphere, winter falls in July. Therefore, these countries celebrate Christmas as a way to embrace the winter spirit.

Here are five ways you too can celebrate Christmas in July:

Watch Christmas movies

You don’t have to wait until December to watch your favorite holiday classics. This July, rent all of your favorite holiday movies and spend the weekend having a holiday movie marathon. Make your Christmas in July experience more realistic by turning the air conditioner on high and breaking out your fleece blanket.

1011485_354587168001869_1214721993_n

Get a head start on holiday shopping

We all know how packed shopping malls can get during the holidays. Take this opportunity to hit up flea markets and outlet malls for gifts. Just think, when the holidays finally roll around, you will already have a lot of your shopping done. Plus, you’ll end up saving money during the holiday season. Trust me, you’ll be glad that you don’t have to spend most of your holiday stuck in a mall.

Bake your favorite treats

Love peppermint and gingerbread cookies? Now you can enjoy your favorite holiday goodies in July. Pop in your favorite holiday cd and spend the day (or weekend) baking. Wrap up a plate of cookies and drop them off at your neighbor’s house. They will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Volunteer at a local shelter

Get into the holiday spirit by giving back. Whether you prefer four legs or two, volunteering at a local animal or homeless shelter is the perfect way to spread the holiday spirit. You will feel great about it and the shelter can definitely use your help. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are really about?

Host a summer soiree

Summer is the perfect time to get the family together for a backyard barbecue. Cook traditional bbq foods but try to incorporate some summer twists on the traditional holiday drinks like chilled eggnog or red and green margaritas. You can also rename some traditional summer games such as horseshoes to “Reindeer Shoes” for added fun. Don’t forget to break out those holiday decorations for your Christmas in July.

It’s never too early to get into the Christmas spirit, and now you can celebrate the holiday season more than once a year. Enjoy the true meaning of Christmas without the commercialism. Celebrate all day or all month, the choice is up to you. Simply reflect on what Christmas time means to you, then try to recreate that feeling and have a good time!

How to Re-Purpose Christmas Decor Beyond The Holidays

In the hidden city, backyard strung with lights, chairs, trees, red door, winter, U District, Seattle, Washington, USAWhile we all love to go overboard for the Christmas season, what do you do with your Christmas decorations after the holidays are over? Many of us pack them up and put them away in storage and don’t think about them again until next year when it’s time to decorate for Christmas again. But what if we told you there are ways to re-purpose Christmas decorations for times of the year other than Christmas? It’s possible, and here’s what you need to know.

Tree lights

This decoration might be one of the most popular items that many people have learned to re-use throughout the year. After the holidays are over and it’s time to take the tree down, don’t think it’s time to put the white tree lights away too. There are so many ways to keep these lights shining throughout the entire year. Whether you like to throw backyard parties during the warmer weather or you like to keep the entrance way to your home lit up, Christmas lights are definitely no longer used just for Christmas time.

Wrapping paper

Wrapping paper for Christmas can get as simple and solid or as Santa themed as you’d like, but once the holiday is over, what do you do with what’s left? By gathering all of your leftover paper and scraps, there are several options you might be surprised by! Use these leftovers to line shelves and kitchen drawers that could use some pops of color, or if you used metallic paper for wrapping, use this to line drink trays for New Year’s Eve.

Ornaments

The day after Christmas, a lot of people are likely to take down their Christmas tree and in turn, pack up all of the ornaments that go along with it. Rather than packing up all of your ornaments, pick out some of your favorites and place them inside a vase or a jar. This can make for a very pretty centerpiece or table scape!

Cards

When it comes to leftover Christmas cards, the possibilities for how to reuse these are practically endless! Whether you decide you want to hole punch them and turn them into confetti for New Year’s Eve or hold on to them to use as gift tags for birthday presents, you really can’t go wrong with having leftover cards! If you’re concerned that the design of the card is too Christmas-y, hold on to them and use them as tags for presents next year. Either way, you’ll be able to re-purpose them for something!

Wreath

The fresh wreath is the best way to go during Christmas time, but once the holiday is over, you really have no option but to put it at the curb with your tree. Rather than throwing out the entire wreath, take pine needles from it and save in a potpourri bag. This way, even though your tree and wreath might be gone, you can still have the scent of Christmas to last as long as you want!