Christmas Stories: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King

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As we explore the traditions of Christmas, let’s also take a look at the history behind some of the most popular Christmas stories of all time.

What better way than to start with a popular tradition for many, The Nutcracker.

E.T.A. Hoffmann

We are all familiar with the popular ballet, The Nutcracker.   But where did the famous story originate?

In 1816, German author E.T.A. Hoffmann published the story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”

The story is of the nutcracker, a favorite Christmas toy of young Marie Stahlbaum, comes alive and defeats the evil Mouse King in battle, whisking Marie away to a magical kingdom populated by dolls.

In 1844, Alexandre Dumas, published a retelling of the story which was nearly identical to that of Hoffmann’s.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, a Russian composer, used the Dumas version, when he wrote his famous ballet, The Nutcracker. He changed the name of the young girl, Marie, to Clara.  Tchaikovsky also had to greatly simplify the story from the original Hoffmann version for his two act ballet.

Tchaikovsky’s ballet premiered at the Marlinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia on Sunday, December 18, 1892.  This was one of the first times when children, instead of adults, played the roles of the children.  The original production was not a success.

“In 1919, choreographer Alexander Gorsky staged a production which eliminated the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier and gave their dances to Clara and the Nutcracker Prince, who were played by adults instead of children. His was the first production to do so.”

Alexandre Dumas
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

In 1927, the first performance outside of Russia was performed in Budapest.  The first complete performance outside Russia occurred in England in 1934.

The first complete performance in the United States was performed by the San Francisco Ballet on December 24, 1944.  The San Francisco Ballet as presented The Nutcracker every Christmas Eve since then.

The Nutcracker has grown in popularity since the 1960s in the United States and spread throughout the country.  Today, it is a staple for dancers to perform and audiences to attend a production of The Nutcracker each holiday season.

The story has been published in various other adaptations, including a fairy tale series, adapted for TV and movies, including The Mickey Mouse Nutcracker, and even made into computer games and live action versions.