By Brianna Gwirtz, OCJ field reporter
‘Twas the night before Christmas decorations arrived,
And groups of volunteers buzzed like a beehive.
Life-sized nutcrackers were loaded with care,
In hopes visitors would soon be there.
The town was yearning for their beloved statue dolls,
In cozy homes all the way to the city hall.
So the nutcrackers were propped up one by one,
To prepare Steubenville for some holiday fun.
While nutcrackers have been synonymous with Christmas for hundreds of years, Steubenville takes the traditional holiday dolls to a whole new level.
Therese Fedoryka has been a part of the Downtown Steubenville Revitalization Committee for the last 10 years. One of the committee’s activities is an annual Christmas parade. In 2015 the parade had a nutcracker theme. Fedoryka’s father, Mark Nelson, owns a woodworking and manufacturing business and thought it would be fun to create some life-sized nutcrackers to fit the theme. Nelson and his team created 37 nutcrackers that year which he placed on display. The town and local businesses fell in love with the nutcrackers and the rest is history.
“The first year we had the nutcracker display, we received 75 requests to make additional nutcrackers,” Fedoryka said. “We’ve continued to add on to the collection and this year we put 200 nutcrackers on display.”
This year’s Nutcracker Village encompasses about four city blocks.
Brodie Stutzman, Fedoryka’s brother-in-law, is the master carver behind the dolls. He has hand-carved all of the dolls from scratch. Each nutcracker is made from foam and fiberglass to better withstand the Ohio winter weather. It also helps to keep the dolls a bit lighter, which makes transporting them easier.
The process to create new nutcrackers has been formalized due to the high demand from local businesses. Each year Stutzman, Nelson, Fedoryka and the Nutcracker Village Committee accept nominations and ideas for new statues.
“Businesses apply and describe to us the nutcracker they want to sponsor. We sit down and review the list of applications in January or February and determine what would be a good addition. Then we talk to the sponsors to get more specific information on the design, such as hair color, eye color, facial hair, understanding if the character has a theme or not, etc.,” Fedoryka said. “My sister will draw the nutcracker up and once the drawing is approved, Brodie starts carving. It takes at least a week to carve the nutcracker. Then I help direct the painting. There are several of us who help to paint the nutcrackers and bring them to life.”
The nutcrackers were placed on display on Nov. 22 of this year and will remain around the town until Jan. 7, 2023. During that time frame, Fedoryka estimates 40,000 people will visit the city to find their favorite nutcrackers.
“It’s a huge draw for Steubenville. The town also does a lot of events in conjunction with the Nutcracker Village,” Fedoryka said.
Nutcracker dolls have been carved in Germany since the late 17th century. Nutcrackers were often given as gifts. The Brothers Grimm had even included nutcrackers in one of their stories, where the nutcracker represented good luck and protection. By baring its teeth, the nutcracker kept evil spirits away. Nutcrackers gained popularity after German author E.T.A Hoffmann wrote “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” This story not only inspired the very popular Nutcracker Ballet that is still performed worldwide to this day, but it also inspired carver Friedrich Wilhelm Füchtner of Germany to begin mass production of the classic red soldier nutcracker using his lathe.
Steubenville’s Christmas events all pay homage to German and Eastern European traditions. The Advent Market features local vendors and is open every weekend through December. Advent Markets date back to the middle-ages and in Germany and Austria are known as Christkindlmarkt. Each one is unique and special to the town. Steubenville also hosts a St. Nicholas Lantern Parade. Attendees are invited to follow St. Nicholas with lanterns throughout the city, ending near the town’s Nativity scene.
“My favorite event is the St. Nicholas Lantern Parade. It’s a very cool Eastern European tradition where they would carry lanterns to the darkened parts of the city and would say prayers in anticipation of Jesus’ birth,” Fedoryka said.
After the walk or when shopping at the market is finished, visitors can enjoy a glass of mulled cider or wine at the German Gluhwein Garden.
The Nutcracker Village features some classic versions of the nutcracker, like the soldier, but also some very uniquely designed statues.
“This year we have a cool new one that is a rocking horse nutcracker. Other popular ones are Hermey from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Fedoryka said. “Our most popular one and probably the most memorable nutcracker is the Mouse King from the Nutcracker Ballet. He stands about nine feet tall and almost everyone talks about him. Grandma and Grandpa Nutcracker are sitting on a bench together and a lot of people like them. We also have the whole cast of the Wizard of Oz. Those are always super popular too.”
The Nutcracker Village is very special for Fedoryka’s family.
“We have always loved Christmas. This project is truly a family event. I have nine siblings and we all seem to play a role in the Village. We also have a Christmas store where we sell actual nutcrackers and Nutcracker Village apparel. My family’s woodworking business is also open during this time for people to shop,” Fedoryka said. “Even my littlest siblings will get dressed up and take part in all the activities.”
The family has also started to purchase abandoned buildings downtown to store their nutcrackers in. They are slowly renovating the buildings and hope to inspire other businesses and families to invest in restoring downtown Steubenville too.
“I am very proud to live in Steubenville,” Fedoryka said.
The Steubenville Nutcracker Village is completely free and open 24 hours through Jan. 7. The complete list of nutcrackers and the full schedule of events can be found online at https://www.steubenvillenutcrackervillage.com/.