Add this whimsical ballet to your holiday ‘must’ list immediately.

By Marisa Spyker
December 03, 2019
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Before we begin, I have a confession: I’ve never been much for the ballet. Maybe it’s the slowness, the lack of dialogue, or the difficulty in following the storyline, but every time I’ve tried to sit through a performance of Romeo and Juliet or Swan Lake—which is, admittedly, once each—I find myself kinda wishing I’d bought tickets to see Wicked or Hairspray (again) instead.

Which is why it might come as a surprise to hear that the only theater production I actually see with any regularity is a ballet. But for my mom and I, who’ve been seeing this particular show for nearly three decades, it’s much more than that—it’s our absolute favorite holiday tradition.

Ever since I was a little girl, the two of us have been spending balmy Saturday afternoons in December (this is South Florida, by the way) catching the annual production of The Nutcracker ballet. As a kid, I remember marveling at the grownup-ness of our dates—how we’d doll up in fancy attire and head to the theater, then end the day sharing dinner at a nice restaurant near the beach. I also loved the playfulness of the show, how toy soldiers and candy canes came alive in a display of Christmas magic, and how a nutcracker ultimately rose up to save the day. (I brought a Nutcracker doll home with me early on in our tradition and it lived, year-round, on my bedroom shelf until well after I graduated college.)

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Decades later, though we’ve seen the show a zillion times, the experience hasn’t lost its luster. We both know the songs by heart, the sequence of dances, and the number of snowflakes and flowers that’ll inevitably come waltzing out from behind the curtain. But, like re-watching a favorite movie you’ve seen a thousand times, we’re not there to experience something entirely new. It’s the familiarity and the sameness that makes watching the performance each year as comforting as a hot cup of cocoa (or a cool glass of eggnog for us Floridians) on Christmas Eve.

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In a way, however, it’s also been about the differences. Over the years, my mom and I have watched The Nutcracker on numerous stages, from big-city theaters to tiny playhouses. There are always nuances from venue to venue, whether it be in the dancers, the sets, the costumes, or even the food served at intermission (wine and M&Ms, thankfully, seem to be universal). At this point, we consider ourselves expert critics in the intricacies of Nutcracker performances—though, admittedly, we’ve never seen a show we didn’t like.

For us, the ubiquity of The Nutcracker in virtually every city and small town is a benefit that’s come in handy. Within the past eight years, we’ve moved a combined four times (the vast majority on my part—sorry Mom and Dad). Each one has taken us further apart, distance-wise. Which means, in addition to having to find new places to see the show, our mom dates have overall become less frequent and a lot more special.

I’m aware that it won’t just be us forever—next year, in fact, I’ll have a daughter of my own and our Nutcracker duo will become a trio. But as our family grows and changes, I plan on continuing to see The Nutcracker year after year. Because as much as I’m indifferent over ballets in general, I know that traditions, however corny or endearing they may be, are what lasting holiday memories are made of.

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