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Missing ‘The Nutcracker’? Here’s how to enjoy your annual ballet tradition from home


Chris Briggs | Unsplash CC0

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 12/07/20

All of the magic and wonder can be re-created at home this year.
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It’s a bit curious that The Nutcracker ballet has become a Christmastime classic, given that the story has nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Thanks to its holiday setting, however, replete with glimmering gifts and that unforgettable growing Christmas tree, the ballet has become an annual tradition for many families. The child-centered plot no doubt helps (what child hasn’t dreamed of a Land of Sweets?), and makes the show a wonderfully accessible entry point for introducing little ones to the world of fine arts and theater.

For those who look forward to seeing The Nutcracker each year, or who planned on taking their children and grandchildren to see a beloved performance, the pandemic restrictions on theater shows are no doubt hitting hard. In the endless annals of things that the pandemic has taken from us, a ballet performance may seem relatively insignificant, but sometimes it’s those smaller things—the ones we didn’t even realize how much we would miss—that sting the most to go without. 

If you’re feeling disappointment over skipping your annual Nutcracker tradition, take heart in knowing that you can still celebrate and enjoy the ballet this year. In fact, your at-home Nutcracker ballet celebration might be even more fun than attending the real performance. And it will be a sweet and special memory for your family to cherish long after the pandemic is over.


Read more:
One mother’s letter encouraged the New York City Ballet to do something amazing

Setting the scene

As beautiful as the ballet is, its appeal might not be immediately obvious to young children unfamiliar with the medium. The first step to a successful Nutcracker viewing at home is to familiarize children with the story.

Listen to … The Maestro Classics recording of The Nutcracker is an ideal starting point. Vivid, exciting narration is mixed in with the musical score for a delightful introduction to the story and a worthy complement to the performance.

Read aloud … Susan Jeffers’ picture-book edition closely follows the plot of the ballet. With its engaging illustrations and succinct yet beautiful wording, this retelling brings the youngest children into the magic.

Re-enact … Children learn best through play, so once they’ve heard the CD and read the book, encourage them to re-enact their favorite scenes as you play the musical score in the background. One child might want to dance the Waltz of the Flowers, while another lives to clash swords with the Mouse King, and that’s the beauty of the story—there’s something for everyone!

Invite … In advance of your planned Nutcracker viewing, invite each member of the family to attend the “Tea Party” or “Royal Ballet.” You might put a crafty child in charge of making simple invitations to deliver to siblings.

Dress the part … When it’s time for the performance, you might encourage your children to dress up for the occasion, or get cozy together in Christmas pajamas. Of course, if you have a child who loves to dance, ballet attire is wonderfully appropriate!


Decorating a Nutcracker wonderland

Decorations are entirely optional, but are a fun way to involve children in the preparations and excitement.

Cut out paper snowflakes to hang up in the room (try using coffee filters instead of paper for less prep!).

Create your own paper nutcrackers out of recycled materials (it’s amazing what can be done with cardboard boxes, glue, and a little paint!). If you’ve got paper towel or toilet paper rolls on hand, you can make all the Nutcracker characters, or simply print and color this paper template for a super-easy version.

The Washington Ballet has instructions for making a snowy and sparkly Nutcracker diorama scene at home.

Creating a Land of Sweets

Bringing the fabled “Land of Sweets” to life at home might be the best part, at least in your kids’ opinions! A quick search through Pinterest or Google for “Nutcracker themed food” turns up hundreds of responses, and here are a few favorites.

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A post shared by ellie and piper® | Party Shop (@ellieandpiperco)

Ballerina marshmallow pops look elaborate, but are so quick and easy that kids can make them! (You might opt for a healthier banana version.)

Bakers can create these festive Sugar Plum Fairy Cupcakes.

Kids will have as much fun making these strawberry mice as vanquishing them in battle … I mean, eating them.

A regal performance

Finally, the performance itself! Quite a few ballet companies are holding online performances this year. You might want to check out your local ballet companies too; in a year that’s been brutal on the theater industry (among so many others), it’s a great time to support a local company.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker includes subtle narration that makes it ideal for the littlest viewers. You can stream it from the New York City Ballet or watch the DVD.

The 2009 recording of London’s Royal Ballet performing The Nutcracker is truly stunning.

It’s not the performance, but The Washington Ballet is offering a Nutcracker Tea Party at Home, which their website describes as a “40-minute Nutcracker experience featuring guest performances, interactive activities, the story of The Washington Ballet’s unique production of The Nutcracker, and behind the scenes interviews.” This would be ideal for long-time fans who are already familiar with the ballet.

The performance is quite long, so if you are watching with young children, you might break it up into two or three viewings, fast forward some scenes to focus on the highlights, or encourage them to get up and dance along with the performers. Having those options is one of the benefits to watching The Nutcracker from home.

Wishing you a wonder-filled and magical time with your family as you enjoy The Nutcracker at home this year!


Read more:
A Christmas picture book list for every day of Advent

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