Time for Nutcrackers – March and Resolve
According to the Nutcracker Museum in Leavenworth, Washington, USA, the fascination with nutcrackers, a favorite Christmastide ornamentation, dates back to man’s reliance on nuts. “Excavations of early civilizations have revealed nutshells that were probably broken by stones when too hard for the teeth to crack. Pitted stones used for cracking nuts have been found in various parts of the United States and Europe and have been dated back to the Archaic Period, 4,000 to 8,000 years ago. These nomadic peoples would camp near the nut trees when it was time for the nuts to fall. Kernels were eaten whole or ground to make flour or nut butters.”
The oldest nutcracker dates to the third of fourth century BCE and is exhibited in Tarrant, Italy. The Washington state museum’s oldest nutcracker is a bronze one of Roman antiquity dating to the first century ACE. France became famous for its iron nutcrackers while England found itself surpassing Italy in making bronze nutcrackers during the Victorian era. Once a two straps of wood joined by a leather strap or metal hinge, the nutcrackers had become an object of art by the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Nutcrackers became a part of common folklore when they began to be considered a good luck talisman. German tradition held that having a nutcracker in one’s house was good luck. It certainly was for Edwin Steinbach, an Austrian architect of great renown whose family was forced to relocate several times due to war. Finally settingly in eastern Germany, the Steinbach family became skilled craftsmen of nutcrackers. Just as the nutcracker embodies the cycle of life, from the nut falling from the tree and growing into a large, flourishing tree which in later life is made into a beautiful work of art that then cracks the nuts from whence it began, they also overcame their own religious persecution as well as making the simple nutcracker a treasured item. With the first ever limited edition nutcrackers of King Ludwig II, nutcrackers were no longer soldiers but national figures. It was also the Steinbach family that many credit with introducing other figures into the nutcracker family.
Today’s modern nutcrackers no longer take the three or four years to produce that they traditionally did. The over one hundred and thirty steps and carvings are now done often on computers. Still, the nutcracker continues to open its mouth, baring its teeth to evil. Nutcrackers continue to hold their valued reputation as protectors of the home, being messengers of good luck and goodwill. “Don’t be afraid, my beard is long, my head is large, my look is grim but that matters not. I won’t bite you. In spite of my big mouth and grim appearance, I look with my heart for your happiness.”
Mouths are also a big part of another element of this time of year – the New Year’s resolution. If you are like most people, by now, January 4th, you have already made at least five resolutions and broken at least two. Eighty-eight percent of all people worldwide will make resolutions within the first three weeks of the new year but only twelve percent will actually keep those resolutions.
Four thousand years ago the Babylonians marked their new year by an eleven day festival which occurred sometime in our current month of March. In an effort to appease their deities, they made promises, promises to repair their improper behavior and promises of greater living to show respect for their deities. One of the most common New Year promises made by the Babylonians was one resolving to get out of debt. The ancient Egyptians marked their new year by the annual flooding of the Nile. Roman Emperor Julius Caesar refined the various calendars within his kingdom and made January the first month of the year. However, it was Pope Gregory VIII in 1582 that gave us the New Year Day – January 1st on his Gregorian calendar. While Caesar’s never really was popular, the Gregorian date has remained steadfast.
Of recent debate in Christian circles is whether man should make New Year resolutions. If you are Christian, you will have to answer that for yourself. Change is difficult at any time of the year but is it really so wrong to endeavor to make those changes? What can the harm be in striving to be a better person? A common past of the Babylonian celebration was the returning of things borrowed. Other cultures would extinguish all old fires and light new ones. Often, large meals were prepared and old root vegetables were used in the cooking since the recent harvest would have replenished the stocks in the cellar pantries.
What is necessary to remember is that each day is a new page upon which we write the story of our life. Having goals are a good thing. They give our internal compass added impetus as we follow its direction. They cannot, however, be the North Star of our compass. For that we must look inward. After all, if we do not strive to march forward, then we can only expect to march around in circles. Nothing will change unless we change. We must represent a cycle of growing in our own lives, just as the nutcracker does. Then we will make our own good luck, resolve to live peacefully, and march forward into the best year of our life.