Life as a Nutcracker

Reckoning with an absurd holiday tradition

click to enlarge JESSIE HYNES ILLUSTRATION
Jessie Hynes illustration

The thing about Christmas is that none of its traditions really make sense. Rarely, as kids, do you wonder why there's a tree in the house, or why Santa puts the presents under the tree, or why there are various items stuffed in giant red socks.

I say this because every now and then I'm reminded about how, as a little kid, I used to dress up as a nutcracker and walk around beating a plastic drum at anyone who'd pay attention. Other kids had imaginary friends, or they pretended they were superheroes. I, on the other hand, was a nutcracker.

I never, until recently, asked myself why I liked nutcrackers. I remember my family went to The Nutcracker ballet in the '90s. And then every year for Christmas, I'd get a new nutcracker to display in my room. I'm not sure when this translated into putting on a red blazer, blue pants, and wrapping a plastic bucket with tinfoil so I could walk around hitting it with drumsticks.

Again, none of it made any sense. There's no reason I should have liked nutcrackers. I didn't really like ballet. I rarely collected anything. I never particularly enjoyed cracking nuts with the mouths of little wooden men dressed in old soldier outfits.

Only recently has it occurred to me that dressing up as a nutcracker may have been kind of strange. When my wife and I first started dating almost four years ago, she saw a picture of me, the nutcracker, in my parents' living room. She thought it was cute, of course, but she tells me that's because she saw a little kid "literally walking to the beat of your own drum," which is what people say when they think someone is a little weird.

A couple of months ago, everyone at the Inlander played a game where we all anonymously wrote down something that everyone else wouldn't know about each of us. I said I dressed up as a nutcracker as a kid. As everyone tried to match the answer with the person, my co-workers made jokes about who the nutcracker kid was. When our publisher, Ted McGregor, read the answer aloud, he seemed uncomfortable and suggested that I revealed too much.

I wasn't the only little kid who liked nutcrackers. For some reason, a good percentage of Americans collect nutcrackers every Christmas. And like Santa Claus and Christmas trees and stockings, there's an origin story behind why we do this. Just now, I typed "what are nutcrackers" into Google, because I have absolutely no idea what a nutcracker actually is, and I found a 1,500-word article on Slate entitled "A brief history of nutcrackers." But before clicking on it, I changed my mind. Not everything needs an explanation. I liked nutcrackers because, for one reason or another, it became a Christmas tradition, and I probably associated it with the joy of the holidays or something. And that's really the only reason for any of it. Each holiday symbol becomes a memory of a time when we all come together, and even if the symbols themselves are absurd, we hold onto them as long as we can. ♦

Wilson Criscione is an Inlander staff writer and former nutcracker.

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About The Author

Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione, born and raised in Spokane, is an Inlander staff writer covering education and social services in the Inland Northwest.