One of the most popular questions people ask about German nutcrackers is whether or not they really can be used to crack nuts. The short answer to this question is of course, yes* they can crack nuts, but it is not recommended. The Nutcracker has changed from a functional nut cracker to an ornamental traditional Christmas figurine. If you decide to crack some nuts with your Nutcracker realized that 1: you may break it, 2: You will need to wash it and that may not be easy. Many people would probably wince at the suggestion that they use their precious handcrafted German nutcrackers for the mere purpose of cracking a few nuts, but to do so would actually honor the original purpose of the German nutcracker. So, for the long answer to this question of using German nutcrackers for cracking nuts, read on.
The design of the German nutcracker is actually quite ingenious. From the earliest usages of tools throughout history, man has been using a nutcracker of some sort since the dawn of time. The first actual nutcrackers that were designed specifically for the purpose of cracking nuts were simple in design and functioned only for the purpose of cracking the hard outer shell of nuts. Using the power of levers to create a force strong enough to crack a nut shell, the first nutcrackers were a useful and handy tool that made the drudgery of cracking nuts easier. As early as the 1400s, nutcrackers began to be decorated with carvings or made out of brass and displayed on tables and buffets. Wooden and metal nutcrackers began appearing around the 1500s in the shape of birds, animals, and human dolls. Nuts were placed in the mouths of these figures and cracked using levers or screws to break the shells. By the 1600s, decorative nutcrackers were being developed and sold throughout Europe, including Germany.
By the 1700s, German nutcrackers began to appear throughout Germany in the shapes of kings, soldiers, church leaders, police officers, and other authoritative figures who were not considered popular characters by the people at that time. These figures represented oppression, hardship, and the division of classes between the ruling class and the working class. German nutcrackers began to take on the personas of these oppressive figures in German society as a sort of silent mockery to their power and rule. These German nutcracker figures and shapes were popular amongst the German people because it symbolized their desire to free themselves from the oppressive kings, soldiers, and religious leaders of that time. By placing a nut inside the mouth of a German nutcracker designed after a particular ruling king or abusive police officer, the people could symbolically reduce these figures to simple nut crackers. Instead of the ruling class crushing the common man, the common man would crush the ruling class by literally forcing them to crush nuts for their own consumption. This idea of turning the tables on cruel or tyrannical leaders was a popular one in German society and the desire to own their very own German nutcracker swept the countryside.
The German nutcracker became a popular Christmas decoration at this time and was often prominently displayed on the tables of every German household. With their intricately carved wooden features and brightly painted and decorated designs, the German nutcracker was considered a whimsical and precious piece of art to own. Germans have been decorating their homes for Christmas for centuries and many people would take the opportunity to display their most treasured possessions during this time as a celebration and honoring of their faith in Christianity. Many parties and celebrations would be held at this time and wonderful foods and desserts would be created for guests. It was customary for people to display their German nutcrackers on the tables or buffets at dinner parties for guests to enjoy and to encourage conversation about each German nutcracker. Nuts were a popular dessert item of the time and guests would be encouraged to crack their nuts in the German nutcrackers as a sign of celebration and solidarity against oppressive leadership.
Many collectors of German nutcrackers wonder about the strange and sometimes frightening tooth-bearing smiles all German nutcrackers seem to portray. Some believe it is just an added detail to the function of a German nutcracker expressing the use of the teeth to crack nuts. However, legend has it that there is much more to the smile of the German nutcracker than that. Due to their popularity, German nutcrackers were often given as treasured gifts to loved ones. It was considered good luck to own and display a German nutcracker and many people believed they protected the home against evil spirits. As a representation of power and strength, German nutcrackers were thought to protect their owners from danger by baring their teeth and scaring away bad luck and evil spirits. Of course, many of the original designers of the earliest German nutcrackers are said to have included the frightening and intimidating smile as a symbol of the tyranny and cruelty that the oppressive kings, soldiers, and church leaders embodied at the time.
So, to answer the original question, yes German nutcrackers really can be used to crack nuts and in fact they should be used for this purpose as a symbol of solidarity for all free peoples around the globe. While most German nutcrackers today are whimsical characters that remind us of the Nutcracker Suite ballet, their origins are really based in rebellion and represent the desire for people to enjoy freedom and the ability to express dissatisfaction with their leaders. So, go ahead, crack a nut in the mouth of your collectible German nutcracker and enjoy both its beauty and its symbolism!
*Please Note: Here at ChristKindl-Markt we do not suggest that you crack nuts with our Nutcrackers, they are for decoration purposes only.
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