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A nutcracker is a device for cracking nuts. It works on the principle of moments derived from Archimedes' discovery of the lever.

Nutcrackers as wood carvings of a soldier, knight, king, or other profession have been known since at least the 15th century. These nutcrackers are carvings of a person with a big mouth that is opened by pressing a lever in the back of the figurine. Originally one could insert a nut in the big-toothed mouth, press down and thereby crack the nut. Modern nutcrackers in this style are mostly for decoration.

The carving of nutcrackers as well as religious figures and cribs developed as a cottage industry in forested rural areas of Germany. The most famous nutcracker carvings come from Sonneberg, Thuringia, also a center of doll making, and from the Ore Mountains. Wood carving was usually the only income for the people living there. Today their income is supplemented by the travel industry bringing visitors to the remote areas.

Nutcrackers have become popular in the United States as well and a recreated "Bavarian village" of Leavenworth, Washington even features a Nutcracker Museum. Many other materials were used for the decorated nutcrackers, such as porcelain, silver, and brass, and can be seen at the museum.

Carvings by famous names like Jungbanel, Mertens, Karl, Kolbe, Petersen, Ulbricht and especially the Steinbach nutcrackers have become collectors' items.

The Nutcracker Ballet

The story of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was written by E. T. A. Hoffmann. Alexandre Dumas' adaptation of the story was set to music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and has become the most popular ballet performed around Christmas time. It is appealing to children and adults alike and has been a standard yearly feature of theaters in many cities. Because the ballet centers around a young girl's Christmas gift of a life-size nutcracker, it has become a standard performance during the Christmas holiday season.

Portions of this article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License . It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Yule Log" .