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Nutcracker Holiday Party
The suggestions here focus on children's games and activities, however, this party can be adapted for a family party by having families work together on the crafts and games, and providing some more adult appropriate food and refreshments in addition to those suggested below.
These are Victorian style to match the spirit of the Nutcracker. On ballet pink stationery paper in calligraphy or in diploma font, copy out the details of the party, something along the lines of: You are cordially invited to share a festive birthday celebration at our home on Saturday, December 3rd, two thousand and seven at four o'clock in the afternoon. RSVP.
If you wish, leave an extra inch or so at the top, and use that space to emboss a Nutcracker shape (or snowflake etc.) at the centre top of the page.
Glue this sheet onto a rectangular paper doily and seal in an unbleached envelope, or roll into a cylinder and tie with a length of lacy ribbon.
As the guests arrive, play music from The Nutcracker. Outside, if the temperature is below freezing, there will be ice lanterns lining the drive. To make these, see the sidebar for instructions.
If the weather is too warm for this, make some paper bag lanterns. These are made by adding a scoop of sand to a paper bag, then place a votive candle inside and light. These are simple, very effective, but best if used when it isn't very windy out.
Regular Christmas lights and outdoor decorations are also effective. Outside the door, a large Nutcracker doll greets the guests. You can use your own if you happen to own one, borrow one, or make one out of cardboard and poster paint. Stores that sell appliances will often give you appliance boxes for free if you arrange ahead and pick them up promptly. Or maybe you can find an adult who wouldn't mind dressing up to play the part.
Inside, if you do not have a fireplace, you can make a cardboard imitation (see sidebar for details).
From this, simple dollar store stockings hang ("empty"), for each guest.
Fill the room with your usual holiday decor, especially focusing on any more traditional ornaments.
Once the guests have arrived, Uncle Drosselmeyer appears. For Drosselmeyer, you will need a man who is a bit of a ham, and can do a few simple magic tricks (try searching online for a few). He does a few magic tricks for the kids, including producing tiny Nutcracker dolls for each guest. These are beads strung onto gold elastic cord. Make these by drilling a hole through the side of the heads of the smallest Nutcracker dolls you can find (try your local dollar store). These are put on the craft table for later.
At the end of the party, we have a visit from the Sugarplum Fairy. Have a teenager dress in costume and hand out sugarplums and the kids will pose for pictures with her. Or, have costumes available for the kids to try on and become the Sugarplum Fairy themselves.
To make the sugarplums, see the sidebar.
While the kids are posing, the other adults fill their stockings with their scavenger hunt loot. When they leave, they have the stockings and the decorated mini-trees to take with them.
When the kids arrive, have your family greet them wearing old fashioned party wear. Play music from the Nutcracker music, and give each guest one of the dollar store stockings to write their name on in fabric paint and hang until all the guests arrive.
"Nutcracker and mouse" and "Mother Ginger" (see sidebar for game rules) with the parachute.
It may be necessary to impose a rule of no eating any candy until the hunt is over.
You will need two willing adults (dads or uncles are fun) for this one.
Divide the kids into two teams. Arm each team with a roll of green crepe paper and a box full of unbreakable Christmas tree ornaments, garland etc., being sure to give each box a roughly equal amount of trimmings, and a variety in each box. The teams have to decorate dad like a Christmas tree. The most creative tree wins. This one makes for great video/picture opportunities.
This is a lot like the more traditional clothespin drop game, but with a thematic twist. Using wrapped hard candies, the kids hold out their arms straight in front of them and drop the candy into a jug. The kid who gets the most in wins the jar; the misses are divided evenly (you may have to cheat in a few extra candies) among the others.
The guests will need their nutcracker and cord for this. Distribute potted seedling trees (we like the symbol of the growing tree, and the fact that these can be planted in the spring), or $ store artificial mini trees. The cord will become a polymer clay candy garland with a nutcracker in the middle.
You may have the guests make their own beads at the party, or make them ahead depending on the ages and timing of your party. For directions on making candy beads from polymer clay, see the sidebar.
Once the beads are threaded onto the garland, the kids can use this to decorate their trees.
a sugar cone for each guest
butter cream icing, white or tinted green
assorted small candies and sprinkles
placemats and cloths for clean-up
Either ice the cones ahead, or have the kids ice them, then decorate by pressing the candies and sprinkles on the cone.
Just as Clara goes on a magical sleigh ride to other lands, so can your guests. Consider arranging for a horse-drawn sleigh ride. If you plan on this, check to see if the rental place also has a buggy in case there isn't snow for a sleigh ride.
If this isn't in your budget, consider having a "people drawn wagon ride" or making a large cardboard sleigh the kids sit in instead. You just need to make a side panel (refrigerator box or similar) put a small bench or some stools inside and cover with a blanket. The far side of the sleigh isn't necessary if it is placed against a wall. Add sound effects and/or a fan etc. if you wish.
If you opt for this, you can have the kids make "stops" at each of the lands to sample each of the delicacies.
Once the sleigh ride is finished, the kids return for Chinese tea and Spanish hot chocolate (if this did not already happen on the sleigh ride). Adults may wish to have some Arabian coffee as they watch. See the food recipes page for some hot chocolate recipes. Serve finger sandwiches cut into spirals, veggies and dip, and candy cane biscuits (recipe on sidebar). Any other fancy hors d'oeuvres would also work well here, as long as they are also kid-friendly.
These refrigerator cookies can be made with or without the sticks. You can freeze the dough for up to a month ahead for quick fresh cookies anytime.
The basic recipe is a sugar-cookie base.
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp peppermint extract (or cherry)
2 1/2 cups flour (whole wheat ok)
red (or other colour) paste food colouring
Soften butter (do not melt). Cream in sugar, baking powder and salt until well mixed. Beat in egg, vanilla and extract. Add flour and mix well.
Divide dough in half. Colour one half (just a little goes far). Knead into dough and mix well.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out each colour until about 12" x 8" (1/4 to 1/8 inch thick). Use a large spatula to help place one rectangle on top of the other. It may be moved in pieces and reassembled on the other rectangle if necessary. Press down gently to seal together. Roll up tightly from one of the long sides. Wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and chill 2-4 hours or until firm, or freeze for up to a month.
Slice into 1/4 inch slices.
Optional: insert wooden sticks into the bottom to make lollipop cookies.
Place 1" apart on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 375 F for 8-10 minutes. Cool on sheet 1 minute, then transfer to wire rack to cool.
The Nutcracker has lots of different symbols that could be made into a cake, including the large Christmas tree, the sleigh ride, all of the international treats, snow, and of course, the Nutcracker.
For a nutcracker cake, use two roll cakes. Make the first one in the regular way; this will be the head and body. With the second, you will need to roll out thinner logs as follows. While your cake is still flat, cut the sheet into four sections, two slightly longer than the other two. Fill and roll those cakes. The shorter two will be arms, and the longer two will be legs.
Assemble the pieces to form your nutcracker shape. Be sure to put the arms low down on the sides of the body as the top 1/4 of the main log will be the hat and the second ? will be the face. Ice the cake using either fondant or spreadable icing tinted for the hat, jacket, skin tones, boots and pants. Embellish with candy clay tinted gold for braid on the hat and jacket, and tinted blush pink for cheeks and lips. Add button candy for eyes.
Fill a large (2 litre) plastic ice cream tub or bucket to about 1/2 way with cold water. Freeze. Use a small can (slightly bigger than a votive candle) and place it in the centre of the container, and fill the rest of the larger container with water. You may need to weigh the can down with a few pebbles or marbles.
This three-sided cardboard fireplace is made like a science fair display board (3 panels, centre panel double width). If your cardboard starts out flat, measure 1/4 inwards from the outer edge and mark, then lightly score a vertical line so that you can fold the flap back.
Nutcracker and Mouse
The candy cane biscuits are made from whole grain crescent roll dough (the pre-made stuff with the dough boy). Unroll the dough and cut into strips, pushing together any pre-cut seams that don't belong. On half of the strips, spread extra-fruit strawberry spread. Twist one strawberry and one regular strip together to form a candy cane. Do this with all of the dough and bake about ? the time as indicated on the package.
*Be sure any tools you use are dedicated polymer clay tools, and will not be used for food.
Roll one ?" ball of white clay and one 1/8" ball each of red and green clay; form each into equal length long snakes-check for scale based on the size of the mini trees) the white will be thicker. Twist the strands together. Cut into appropriate lengths and form into candy cane shapes. Slide a darning needle through the top of each to create a hole for beading.
Form balls as above. Cut the white ball in half and roll each half again. Roll one white and one red ball into separate snakes; make the red one about 8 times as long as the white. Cut the red into 8 equal lengths and arrange on the outside of the white lengthwise so they are evenly spaced. Gently roll together a couple of times and then slice into beads. Slide a darning needle through one side out the other to form a hole for beading.
Blend a small bit of coloured clay into translucent clay until well blended, then form into tiny gumdrop shapes. Brush with white embossing powder and slide a darning needle through the top to form a hole for beading.
Blend a small bit of coloured clay into transluscent clay until well blended, then form into tiny balls and press them flat so they all make similar sizes and shapes. Roll a very thin white snake and cut into lollipop stick lengths. Place a stick ? the way up on alternating tinted circles, then top each with a tinted circle. Press gently together and tidy the edges. Slide a darning needle through the top to create a hole for beading.
Bake all according to manufacturer's instructions, but be sure to check often as these are quite tiny and can easily over bake.
Either use pre-made fruit cake or the recipe below. Cut the cake into 2" cubes and covered each with a thin layer of marzipan. Use the reserved glace fruit and nuts to make pretty Christmas designs. Wrap each sugarplum separately in clear plastic wrap.
An alternative to this would be to colour and form fruit shapes from marzipan, and sprinkle with sugar.