A Door Unopened

A Door Unopened
Knock, knock...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Less White Christmas--Integrating the Nutcracker Corps

Leopold holds down the fort on the floor while his shorter brethren keep things in order on the mantle.

We have what could easily be called nutcracker obsession at our house. I take the blame for its inception, but having two male household members has certainly resulted in a bolstering of the militia. What started as a sentimental legacy of one wooden, nut cracking soldier has blossomed into a growing army of Christmas cadets seizing the mantles and guarding our two fireplaces. Our seasonal deer décor and one token Santa icon have all taken a back seat to the many bellicose figures derived from Hoffman's "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King."  Nutcrackers dominate our domicile during the holidaysa childhood affection gone grown-up and passed on to both my men.

When I was a little, my Grandma Val would put out a nutcracker—the Nutcracker—during the holidays. I was beyond smitten with him. He stood tall and proud with soft, white, rabbit fur hair and beard, safeguarding a bowl of nuts in a corner of her dining room. After securing the proper permission, I'd spend at least an hour or two with my ligneous beau, petting his hair, cracking nuts (yes, he was useful that way), and either eating them myself or passing them off to other guests so I could operate his jaw over and over, allowing him to disgorge more and more nut meats. He was mesmerizing. He was stoic. He was weirdly, woodenly romantic in a way that still makes sense to me today but is hard to explain. I never named him but as I write this, I believe his name is Yuri—the Dr. Zhivago of nutcrackers.

Yuri presides over a bowl of ornaments, his nutcracking days long gone, as Vladimir looks on.
For many years Yuri was my one and only nutcracker, always a lone soldier, perhaps his job to remind us that even though it’s Christmas there’s a war going on somewhere. Then I had a son. Selfishly, I suppose, I wouldn’t let Theo crack nuts with Yuri. Too many years had passed and I worried Yuri’s overused jaw couldn’t stand the strain of another childish onslaught of abuse. Theo loved Yuri even though he couldn’t enjoy his full talents. When Theo was about two and a half, he saw a large display of nutcrackers at Macy’s and went gaga. That next year he got his own nutcracker and we advanced the troops to a duet. In a couple more years our situation changed. When I divorced, Yuri and his underling were two of the very few Christmas decorations I took with me.

A few years after that, Tim entered the scene. In the beginning he was all blustery bah-humbug about Christmas. Years later he still has some remnants of that but for my sake he manages to keep the volume down on his inner, ever-shrinking Grinch. The things he likes best about our holiday decorations are the nutcrackers.

His fetish began on a small scale. From a post-Christmas sale he brought home a set of four short, fat nutcracker ornaments. For the next season I got him another set of six miniature men with movable mandibles to hang on the tree.

The mania heightened after we married. A few years ago a shop downtown closed its doors and offered steals on holiday décor. We bought a three-foot nutcracker with a tall black fur hat and cape and named him Leopold. Another after-Christmas sale a year or two later produced Vladimir—as large as Leo but with auburn curls, a crown and a scepter—nutcracker nobility, apparently. This year Tim came home with a mouth-moving, timbered trooper of the drum-playing variety. “We didn’t have one that was playing a drum.” he told me. Now we do.

I hadn't noticed what a biased sampling of the population is represented by nutcrackers. I guess generally they’re supposed to be from Teutonic or Slavic stock. Being your average variety, U.S.-born, European mutt , it never struck me as odd that all the nutcrackers you usually see are white—until yesterday. Yesterday I found a dark-skinned nutcracker. He has what appears to be sun-bleached hair and rides a trusty white rocking horse. Without hesitation I scooped him into my cart, whisked him through the checkout line, brought him home and presented him to the troops.

My new dusky hero now flanks the living room mantle with Vladimir and Santa while Yuri keeps his prime location on the coffee table. I’m still working on a name for the dark prince. I haven’t heard any mumbling from the rest of the corps about the difference of his skin color which leads me to believe that either nutcrackers are colorblind or they just don’t care. Isn’t that refreshing?

Yuri, Vladimir, Santa and the newest corps member.

Now I’m keeping my eye out for more ethnically diverse nutcrackers because I think it’s well past time to integrate the battalion. And if ever I see a female nutcracker, she’s coming home too. Oh, I know, and I agree—there are plenty of female nutcrackers out there (perhaps you’ve even dated one or God forbid, married one) but those are all walking, talking human beings.

So in the face of this change I can’t help but wonder: What do nutcrackers think about “Don’t ask, don’t tell”? What will the brigade say should I ever bring home a nutcracker dressed in a pink tutu? Because believe me, I’m looking. I’m looking.

Any suggestions for a name?


  1. prince edward was the black prince...tho then not only does he have the color issue, he's got the very-English name issue too

  2. Was he born in Kenya? Can I see his birth certificate?

  3. Rich, are there tea bags hanging from your hat?

  4. Abdal-Malik (means "servant of the king")

  5. I remember Yuri well.
    I knew him before I knew you.

  6. The Christmas decorations in your new house look absolutely lovely!
    Merry Christmas,