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

Monday, June 15th, 2015

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.

5 Reasons We Love Fall

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

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!

Friday, July 5th, 2013

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.

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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!

NEW PRODUCTS

Monday, June 17th, 2013

The lifeblood of our business is new products. This is true for any company selling to consumers, but it is somewhat more difficult for us in the Christmas business. Many Christmas figures and images are religious and or traditional. Granted, the images may reflect  local or regional visions and values, such as the difference between the “Coca Cola Santa” in the US and “Sinter Claus” in parts of Europe.

Christmas Nativity figures try to duplicate the Nativity story as originated by St Francis of Assisi and as imagined by European painters and sculptors, both in medieval times and during and after the Renaissance. The Italians generally do it best, but in their strongly individualistic way, are known to include Elvis and other celebrities in their Nativity scenes.  Fontanini, the  Italian family firm which has specialized in producing Nativity scenes of all sizes for over 100 years, has added more animals and figures of medieval “village people”. These are probably more consistent with the original vision of St Francis, who used real people and animals in his Nativity scenes.

Santa Sled with Husky Dogs

Santa Sled with Husky Dogs

Many non-religious Christmas figures are derived from the “Night Before Christmas” poem. These include Santa Claus, Reindeer and Sleigh and Santa’s Elves. Children’s tales turned into ballet  and movies provided the images of Toy Soldiers, Nutcrackers and Bears. Recent innovations include the “Victorian” figures including Carolers and Lamp Post.

So much of our new product effort is offering a new version of the classic figures, that the challenge is making the figures new and different and still appealing and seasonal. Fortunately our founder and president , Claire, is a fine arts grad and photographer with an excellent eye and color sense as well as the extreme patience and attention to detail necessary to produce winning designs. We are also fortunate to be working with several factories whose owners understand the importance of new products and employ skilled designers and sculptors.

Our latest product introduction, the enormous 12 foot Nutcracker King, item 37001, is an example of our team in action. Claire provide the original design and the factory sculpted the figure which Claire fine tuned. The factory then produced the mold and created the prototype colors and decorations based on Claire’s design. The factory also determined the sizes of the various parts and how they will be attached together for the final giant piece. The final result is a unique figure which will decorate many shopping malls, retail stores, city centers and even some mansions next Christmas.

Here is a link to our press release announcing the introduction of the 12 foot Nutcracker King

FONTANINI NATIVITY FIGURES

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Christmas Night has been carrying the beautiful and famous Nativity figures from Fontanini of Lucca,  Italy for over 10 years. Since our focus has mostly been on larger outdoor figures, we  initially listed the 34 Inch and 50 inch Nativity figures. We then discovered that the manufacturer does not recommend outdoor display of their marble and resin pieces, so we added the smaller, 18 inch and 27 inch Nativity  sets, which are better displayed indoors, in any case.

Fontanini figures, which have been manufactured and hand decorated by the Fontanini family for over 100 years, are classic works of art. As such, they are very expensive and sell very slowly. We have carried some larger figures, carefully packaged and protected ,in our stock for five years. The replacement cost of these figures keeps increasing, in line with higher commodity and labor costs.

We have decided to offer several of the larger sets, Holy Families. Kings and individual pieces, at greatly reduced prices to make room for faster moving items. Our prices for these items are wonderful bargains and are an opportunity for anyone who has wanted such figures but couldn’t justify the expense. Our quantities are very limited and these offers will not be repeated,by us.

One featured set is the Fontanini 50″ Holy Family

Fontanini 50" Holy Family

Fontanini 50" Holy Family

Retail price for this set is $7599.00 plus shipping.

Our special, one time, price is $2997.00 with free shipping.

St Joseph with Jesus

St Joseph with Jesus

A featured figure is St Joseph with Jesus

Retail price $999.00, special price $499.00

Please see our websites christmasnightinc.com and saintfrancisgarden.com under Fontanini Statues for other specials.

Charleston at Christmas

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Our Christmas vacation this year was a trip to The Kiawah Island Golf Resort in the Low Country of South Carolina, not far from the historic city of. Charleston. We took a day to drive into the city, which was bustling with tourists like us and holiday crowds. South Carolina low country has a profusion of churches and Charleston is the same. What is interesting about the churches in the city is the age, history and variety of  christian denominations represented.

We first visited St Michael’s Church on the site of the first Anglican Church built south of Virginia. Erected in 1680 as St Phillips Church and subsequently rebuilt several time to replace buildings destroyed by fire or grown too small for the congregation, the current building was opened for services in 1761. The church exterior is dominated by a near 200 ft steeple and weathervane. The interior is very intimate with the native cedar pews almost on top of the altar and galleries hanging over on three sides. The pews have doors at each end, perhaps to ensure the the right people sit there. To the left of the very high pulpit is a small platform where the very small Nativity Set was placed. We thought this an insufficient display for such an historic and inspiring church.

We had been advised to visit the French  Huguenot Church, built in the ” French Quarter” of  Charleston in 1844. The Huguenots were French Calvinists who faced suppression in France and were very nearly wiped by successive Louis Kings. Growing up English Protestant in Montreal. I can remember being surprised to hear of a French Protestant school surviving in a sea of French Catholics. The present Huguenot church in Charleston, like St Michaels, was rebuilt after a fire and survived damage from the Civil War and the Charleston Earthquake. When we visited, the church was closed for major exterior renovation. Not surprisingly services are conducted in English, except for an annual service in French to  celebrate spring.

We then visited the main Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist, which is a newly constructed but large and inspiring version of classic church design.As is usual in Catholic churches, there were about five different things going on at the same time. I have always been impressed with their level of activity and utilization of their facilities on days other than Sunday. A very good business model.

We had lunch at S N O B, which is not elitist but stands for Slightly North Of  Broad (street). Reservations were required and the food was a wonderful blend of southern and foreign influences.

After lunch we went looking for a Nativity customer who had purchased our Christmas Nativity 40″ and had asked us to drop by when we were in Charleston. The city is a small area and much easier to walk around than drive. Our customer was in a classic Charleston house on a corner of the Historic Area south of Broad Street and  sheltered from the street by a wall and wrought iron fence. With luck, we found the creche and had a nice chat with the family. They plan to buy a a larger stable and add new pieces to the Nativity,  including the  camel.

Five Things to Consider When Planning a Christmas Display

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Summer is nearly over. How did it go by so quickly? Now that we are past Labor Day, it is time to plan this year’s Christmas display. There are a number of considerations and I would like to address what we consider are the five most important.

  1. 37006stIs the focus religious or secular or both? With the modern holiday celebration of Christmas it is easy to forget that it evolved as a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Many Christians consider it very important to make this statement by displaying a Nativity Scene or Creche. Many people also view Christmas as a holiday for children, so the Santa, Snowman, Nutcracker or Toy Soldier have become an important part of the non-religious Christmas mythology.
  2. Is your display to be indoor or outdoor, or both? Of course, much of the Christmas ritual is centered on the Christmas tree with all of the traditional decorations and accessories and the family traditions that go along with it. Many religious people have replaced some or all of the baubles and tree skirts and, in some cases, even the tree, with an indoor Nativity Scene. Out door displays whether a Nativity creche or a Nutcracker, need to be large enough to be visible and are usually spotlighted. Here, location is important, if they are to be seen on  the street.
  3. 38200stWhere and how are you going to store your Christmas display? Some displays are lighted wire shapes which fold flat and are easily stored, standing up against a wall or lying down. The same storage convenience applies to the painted wood panel 2D Nativity figures and sets. The three dimensional fiber glass or resin mix Nativity or other Christmas statues will require some prior planning for off season storage.If convenient, we recommend that you store these pieces in the carton or crate they were shipped in. These can be stored in a garage, attic, warehouse or annex that is dry and safe. If there isn’t room to use the original boxes, the individual pieces can be wrapped in bubble wrap and laid flat on the floor and on top of each other, up to a safe height. Resin and fabric figures should always be stored in the original carton in a dry area.
  4. How are you going to keep your Christmas display safe and secure? On our website under the heading “Useful Information” we offer a number of suggestions about securing your outdoor Nativity and other Christmas statues and displays. These include tethering, attaching or otherwise connecting the statue to something immovable, like the ground. Indoor displays should be set up away from fireplaces or hot electric lights.
  5. The last consideration is your budget. You will want to view this kind of purchase as an investment. Our  fiberglass and polyresin pieces are not yesterday’s cheap throwaway  plastic figures lighted from the inside or the soft vinyl blow ups which wilt overnight. With proper cleaning and storage they will last you a long time. Whatever your budget, don’t for get to include the cost of shipping/delivery for your item or set.

These are our five key factors. What are yours? Please let us know and, for the best submission, as determined by us, we will give $100.00 off the price of any of our items which sell  for $1200.00 or more.

Nativity Scenes in Other Lands

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

reforma-1A few years ago we were visiting Mexico City at Christmas and our friends told us about the displays of Nasciamentos or Nativity Scenes on Avenida Reforma, a main thoroughfare in the City. Each display had been sponsored  by local businesses, non -profit organizations, government departments and charities. They were then rendered by artists from the area. In the tradition of  Saint Francis of Assisi, there was a live Nativity Scene with adult and child actors and animals.

At Christmas, Mexico City is warm during the day and cold at night but mostly sunny, when the sun  can cut through the smog. Reforma is a six lane boulevard with a large city park at one end and statues of revolutionary heroes and majestic fountains dominating the round-abouts at major intersections. Traffic, as with all traffic in Mexico City, is always heavy, so crossing the boulevard to view and photograph the Nativities was a challenge.

reforma-2Many viewers of the scenes were foreign tourists like us, but many were Mexican families, perhaps from villages and rural areas. There were busloads of children and adults from schools and affinity groups and city dwellers out for a stroll. The whole scene creates a pleasant memory for us and a contrast with our own country where a display like this would be nearly impossible.

The Plastic Reindeer Rule and Christmas in July

Friday, July 29th, 2011

The many celebrations of Christmas in July brought to mind the understandable confusion created by the various  interpretations of what has become known as the “Plastic Reindeer Rule”. This decision by the Supreme court in 1984 refers to a Pawtucket RI case (Lynch v. Donnelly) wherein the court ruled that the city did not violate the separation of church and state when it included a Nativity scene among a number of other Christmas holiday decorations(plastic reindeer, candy canes, a wishing well, a Jewish menorah) displayed in a public park. Please see a concise discussion of this and other significant holiday cases.

Its important to note that this ruling only applies to public/government property not private property and may be modified by specific state laws or circumstances. To quote the Pew Forum on Religious Displays and the Courts ” The Supreme Court has relied heavily on a close examination of the particular history and context of each display and has largely sidestepped setting clear rules that would assist the lower courts in deciding future cases”

holy-family-catholic-league-nyc-2010So what does  this all mean to a municipality or business planning a Christmas Holiday Display? In our opinion, if you are replacing an existing creche or Nativity which you have had for a substantial period of time, don’t hesitate, the law is on your side. If you are planning a new display on municipal or state property, combine several secular pieces (Santa, Nutcracker, Snowman) with the Nativity Scene. And, of course, if your display is on church or private property, even in a high traffic, high visibility location, the law is entirely on your side.

We welcome your comments

Unique Nativity Sets Around The Globe

Monday, July 18th, 2011

As I’m sure you’re aware, the first real nativity sets didn’t begin until the first by St. Francis of Assisi in the thirteenNativity scene in Naplesth century, though the birth of Christ had been depicted in art since the origin of the Church. But since the thirteenth century, different cultures and different countries have taken the nativity and added their own spin to it.

Many credit Naples in Italy as the real beginning of the nativity set as an art form. In the eighteenth century there would actually be competitions between families to create the most elaborate and intricate scenes. These scenes were not necessarily biblically accurate, and often depicted more mundane activities as well, like Mary washing diapers.

In the United States, there is a regional variant on the traditional nativity set. The Pennsylvania Dutch created what was called a “putz” at the foot of their Christmas tree. These intricate miniature scenes expanded over the years to include not only the nativity scene, but also other important biblical stories, such as Noah’s Ark. From including other biblical storiesChristmas village, these time consuming miniature worlds began to encompass the secular world, as well, becoming an entire Christmas Village.

Perhaps even more elaborate in ways than the US tradition of the Christmas village is another derivative of the nativity set – originating in Krakow, Poland in the nineteenth century. Called the “Krakow szopka” – this art form is a kind of folk art, as the scene of the birth of Christ usually incorporates historic buildings in the area. Bright colors, gilding, and the prominence of the building in the background are typical. They even have krakow szopka competitions – they can be as tall as two meters (or six and a half feet)!

One of the most important nativity sets is one that did not begin until relatively recently. In 1982 Pope John Paul II started the annual tradition of placing a nativity scene on display at the foot of the Christmas tree in the piazza at Vatican City374px-szopka_krakowska_bronislaw_piecik_mhk_1998.

As well as static nativity sets, from the extravagant to the humble, there are also traditional live nativity scenes that are largely derived from mystery plays, which were prohibited by the Church in the fifteenth century. These living nativity scenes were brought to the United States by German immigrants. In some countries, these live tableaus involve a procession to a final destination, and other times are more involved re-enactments that encompass both secular and religious happenings.

Whatever your take on the nativity, there is no doubt that there are a lot of powerful and creative interpretations of the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.