The “Little Tree” and The Nutcracker Suite

Godfather Drosselmeier

Well. It’s about time.

I’m in full-blown Christmas cleaning/decorating/wrapping mode. There’s not that much to wrap and if UPS can’t figure out how to get up my hill, there may be next to nothing to wrap.

No matter.

I’m putting up the “little tree” and I’ve got The Nutcracker: The Motion Picture on the VHS player. Yes. Video TAPE. I suppose I ought to go about procuring it on DVD.

Tchaikovsky is filling the air and I’m a ballerina en pointe arabesquing about the house in a Martha Stewart Meets Minny Pearl mashup of holiday décor.

[I keep pricetags on some of the “priceless” ornaments as I think it may amuse my great-great-children to see what my treasures cost.]

The Prince and Clara

Back during a different geologic era when I was a youngun, I happened upon The Nutcracker Ballet on television. I’ve always thought it was PBS, but I’m not sure. This version of the ballet has reached legendary status in my mind because I can’t find a copy of it anywhere and I can’t find anyone who even knows what I’m talking about. I do remember watching it once a year from about the age of 9 or so through junior high – 1968 to 1973. Maybe earlier, maybe later.

This version opened with large double doors opening slowly to show the mother lighting the candles on the Christmas tree. That opening scene took the breath of the little girl I once was. So much so that I have worshipped Christmas trees ever since. To the point that I have candles on my Christmas tree – though never lit. And so much so that it’s just not Christmas without watching The Nutcracker.

Sugar Plum Fairy

In my early 20s, I saw the Milwaukee Ballet and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra perform the piece. Cross my heart, it was one of the best versions ever. I particularly remember the eroticism of “the silk scarf” wrapping herself around the gift recipient’s neck. The entire audience gasped.

Maurice Sendak of Where the Wild Things Are joined forces with the Pacific Northwest Ballet company and the lot of them produced The Nutcracker: The Motion Picture which was released in 1986. It’s a lush, gorgeous, edgy, hypnotic piece of Christmas tradition. It doesn’t haven’t a silk scarf to get the juices of the audience flowing, but it has other charms.

When I first procured the tape, the Ex and Chef Boy ‘R Mine were less than pleased I was pre-empting football playoffs to watch it. The Ex wandered off, but The Boy and I were glued to it. The next year I had it playing while preparing Christmas dinner. My brother arrived early. The next thing I knew, he and my son were sprawled on the floor, hands propping chins, and so thoroughly engrossed my brother didn’t hear me ask if he wanted a beer. [Possibly the first time my brother didn’t hear the offer of a beer.]

There’s a reason these things become classics. Experts will tell you this is one Tchaikovsky’s worst pieces of music. Ballet folk insist the ballet is mediocre at best. The two of them twirled together in snow, candy canes and twinkle lights are a gestalt that defies explanation. Having watched the whole thing, twice through while I decorate the tree, the holidays now feel like a joyous, magical time and not the period of obligations they felt like yesterday.

Lord! Is it ever going to be done?

Christmas trees are my favorite part of the holiday and the “little tree” took flippin’ forever to put up, in part, because I kept resting on Memory Lane. This tree is comprised of all the ornaments most likely to please children, big and small. It’s out of control and tomorrow I have to fiddle with it to find room for the ornaments from my childhood that my mother is giving me. At the moment it’s covered in Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Star Trek, The Nutcracker, 12 Days of Christmas, bears, cows, pigs, flamingos, Green Bay Packers, dogs, Santas, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, M&Ms, lobsters and Chef Boy ‘R Mine’s ornaments made in school. It’s a treasure.

Tomorrow, I’ll start the the “big tree” – a truly monumental undertaking.  While the “little tree” is all whimsy and chaos, the “big tree” is all elegance and sparkle.  It too will provoke stop-overs on Memory Lane.  Most of the ornaments were chosen with care to provoke remembrance of people, events, places and things.  And it’s dubbed the “big tree” because the amount of stuff on it is testament to my penchant for excess.

O.K. Mostly done!

But, it’s all good. Last year, what with one thing and another, I didn’t decorate at all. This year, it’s all coming out and going up, down, on or in. Most of it will be up for months as I’m using this time of relatively empty closets to paint them, shelf them, and, ahem, organize the hell out of them.  There will be whining.  Right now, however, I’m glorying in my favorite part of the holiday – Christmas trees.

I hope that right now you are doing what it is that you most love about this time of year. And if you’re not, that you will be soon. Now, of course, you and I both realize that the best part of this time of year is spending time with the folks we love. I’ve been doing some of that and will be doing more of it in the days to come, but right now I’m in a decorating frenzy and loving every second of it.

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