Sugar Plum Day
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
“The nutcracker sits under the holiday tree,
a guardian of childhood stories.
Feed him walnuts and he will crack open a tale...”
~ Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration
Tchaikovsky's Christmas-themed ballet debuted on Dec. 18, 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Initially unsuccessful, it later became global Christmas tradition. One of the most anticipated dances, the " Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" occurs in the third movement, set in the Land of Sweets, and is distinguished for its use of the celesta, a piano-like instrument that sounds like the tinkling of bells.
Today, Sugar Plum Day, marks the December 18th, 1892 premiere of Tschaikovsky's famous and most loved ballet, The Nutcracker!
Although the original production was not a success, the 20-minute suite that Tchaikovsky extracted from the ballet was. However, the complete Nutcracker has enjoyed enormous popularity since the late 1960s and is now performed by countless ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season, especially in North America. Major American ballet companies generate around 40% of their annual ticket revenues from performances of The Nutcracker. The ballet's score has been used in several film adaptations of Hoffmann's story.
Tchaikovsky's score has become one of his most famous compositions.
The first act centers around a magical Christmas Eve. Family and friends have gathered in the parlor to decorate the beautiful Christmas tree in preparation for the party. Once the tree is finished, the children are sent for. They stand in awe of the tree sparkling with candles and decorations.
Presents are given out to the children. Suddenly, as the owl-topped grandmother clock strikes eight, a mysterious figure enters the room. It is Drosselmeyer, a local councilman, magician, and Clara's godfather. He is also a talented toymaker who has brought with him gifts for the children, including four lifelike dolls who dance to the delight of all. He then has them put away for safekeeping.
Clara and Fritz are sad to see the dolls being taken away, but Drosselmeyer has yet another toy for them: a wooden nutcracker carved in the shape of a little man. The other children ignore it, but Clara immediately takes a liking to it. Fritz, however, breaks it, and Clara is heartbroken.
During the night, after everyone else has gone to bed, Clara returns to the parlor to check on her beloved nutcracker. As she reaches the little bed, the clock strikes midnight and she looks up to see Drosselmeyer perched atop it. Suddenly, mice begin to fill the room and the Christmas tree begins to grow to dizzying heights. The nutcracker also grows to life size. Clara finds herself in the midst of a battle between an army of gingerbread soldiers and the mice, led by their king, and a battle begins.
The nutcracker appears to lead the soldiers, who are joined by tin soldiers, and by dolls who serve as doctors to carry away the wounded. As the Mouse King advances on the still-wounded nutcracker, Clara throws her slipper at him, distracting him long enough for the nutcracker to stab him.
The mice retreat and the nutcracker is transformed into a handsome Prince (of course). He leads Clara through the moonlit night to a pine forest in which the snowflakes dance around them, beckoning them on to his kingdom as the first act ends.
For a Scottish Highland and Country Dance version of the Nutcracker, click the still from the San Jose School of Highland Dancing's 2018 charming version.