By E. T. A. Hoffman
(As written in "The Treasury Of Christmas Tales")
It was Christmas eve - at last! Every Christmas eve, after dinner, Maria and her brother Fritz opened their presents. Even though Maria and Fritz lived in long-ago Germany, they also celebrated by giving gifts on this special day. This evening, the Christmas tree in the parlor seemed even bigger and more beautiful than ever. And Maria and Fritz had wonderful presents. They had dolls, little toy soldiers, and picture books. But Maria's favorite gift was from her godfather, Dr Drosselmeier. It was a wooden nutcracker carved to look like an old soldier. It did not look like any other nutcracker Maria had ever seen. What Maria did not know, though, was that the nutcracker was enchanted.
After Maria and Fritz finished opening their presents, another celebration began. They were going to have a Christmas party for their young cousins and friends. Everyone played with the dolls and toy soldiers, and there were all kinds of Christmas candies and cookies to eat.
Then Dr Drosselmeier said, "wait right here, children. I have a special Christmas treat for your party."
Before the children could guess what the treat might be, he appeared with two puppets and a small stage for a puppet show.
The two puppets danced and leaped high off the stage, and did somersaults, while the children watched and, and laughed, and clapped. And Maria held her favorite gift, the nutcracker, through the whole puppet show.
After the show was over, fritz began to dance around just as the puppets had done. He grabbed the nutcracker from Maria and leaped up, holding it high. But Fritz could not dance quite as well as the puppets. He stumbled, and the nutcracker went flying across the room, landing near the Christmas tree. When Maria ran to pick up her favorite gift, she saw that his wooden jaw was broken.
"Oh, no!" she cried. "Let me fix you, poor nutcracker." She carefully tied the nutcracker together with her handkerchief, and put him under the Christmas tree.
Then Mother called, "time for bed." All the guests had gone, and it was time to put out the lights and go upstairs.
The house was quiet, but Maria could not sleep. She was thinking about the nutcracker under the Christmas tree.
Maria tiptoed downstairs.
When she opened the doors to the big parlor, she was surprised to see that the Christmas tree was lighted again. She picked up her nutcracker, but he looked larger than when she had left him under the tree. And his jaw wasn't broken anymore!
The nutcracker seemed to be growing. As he grew taller and taller, his carved wooden face slowly changed. Before Maria's very eyes, the nutcracker became a handsome young prince. The prince bowed to Maria and thanked her. Her act of kindness had broken a magic spell that had been cast over him.
Just then, Maria heard a scuffling and scratching sound, with pattering and squeaking noises. She looked up to see a roomful of huge gray mice. "What are mice doing here?" wondered Maria. The mice were led by a Mouse King, who had seven heads and carried a sword.
Just as the prince leaped in front of Maria to protect her, they heard the sounds of a trumpet and a drum. Out of Fritz's gift box, left under the Christmas tree, sprang a whole troop of toy soldiers, that grew to life size as soon as they stepped out of their box. The soldiers, led by the prince, began a great battle with the Mouse King and his army of gray mice.
What a battle it was! Back and forth the two armies fought. Maria began to be afraid that the mice would wihn. The prince and the toy soldiers seemed to be getting tired. But, just then, Maria saw her chance to help. She took off her slipper and threw it with all her might at the Mouse King. Down he went! The battle was over. As quickly as they had come, the army of mice scampered away. The prince was now completely free from the magic spell. He could go home to his own land.
"Would you come with me?" he asked Maria.
"Oh, yes!" answered Maria.
The prince led Maria to the Christmas tree, which seemed to have grown taller. He raised his arms, and suddenly the prince and Maria were no longer in Maria's parlor. Instead, they found themselves in the nutcracker prince's own kingdom. And all around them were beautiful dancing snow fairies.
"Welcome to the Land Of Sweets," said the prince.
Maria saw sights she had never dreamed of. Here, the houses were made of chocolate and peppermint sticks. There was a river of lemonade, and a lake of sugar and almond milk. Maria and the prince travelled down the lemonade river, passing by lollipop tries and candy flowers. They rode in a little boat shaped like a seashell.
Finally, they arrived at a sparkling castle made entirely of spun sugar. This was the palace of the Sugar Plum Fairy, who came forth to greet them.
The prince said, "Maria, with her kindness, has rescued me from an enchanted spell. In the battle of the Mouse King, at just the right moment, she attacked with her slipper and saved me."
When the Sugar Plum Fairy heard this, she invited Maria and the prince to sit on her royal throne. She threw a great party to celebrate. Everyone in the Land Of Sweets came!
As tinkling music filled the hall, the Sugar Plum Fairy did a graceful fairy dance. Next came a parade of dancers - Chinese dancers, whirling Arabian dancers, leaping and twirling Russian dancers.
Maria had never seen such sights!
There were chocolate dancers and pennywhistle candy dancers, and even dancing clowns. Just when Maria could not imagine anything more grand, she was surrounded by enchanted flowers. Everywhere she looked were beautiful flowers - Buttercups and Daffodils, Roses and Tulips. They seemed almost to float as they waltzed round and round the great ballroom. Everyone joined in the dancing.
Maria was a little afraid to dance.
Then the nutcracker prince approached and said, "all this dancing is for you. You must dance too. Come with me."
So Maria and the prince whirled, and whirled, and whirled...
...Until Maria was a little dizzy and could no longer tell exactly where she was.
She rubbed her eyes and sat up. She was beneath her own Christmas tree! In her own house. And here, beside her, was her nutcracker.
Where was the prince? The dancers? The Sugar Plum Fairy? Oh, could it all have been a dream?