READY FOR THEIR SEASON — Residents of the Steubenville Nutcracker Village will be taking their places throughout downtown in preparation for Tuesday’s opening night. — Contributed
STEUBENVILLE — The months-long process of getting the downtown area ready for Christmas is almost over.
At Fort Steuben Park, Christmas trees are up and decorated, lights have been strung and the Holiday Market chalets are in place, ready for Tuesday’s Steubenville Lights Up the Night festivities and the throng of visitors it attracts.
But before that happens the 200-plus denizens of Steubenville’s Nutcracker Village will make their annual migration to the central business district and the park: Volunteers have spent upward of 500 man-hours repairing and refreshing the life-sized, hand-carved figures of season’s past, and creator Brodie Stutzman has carved new ones — five of them — that will debut in the 2023 Christmas season, all of them painted and accessorized by local artists, including lead designer and event organizer, Therese Nelson.
Now, many of those same volunteers will spend the weekend making sure the nutcrackers are in place and downtown Steubenville is ready for opening night.
It’s a lot of work, she said.
“It would be almost impossible to total the hours involved in putting this festival together,” said Nelson, whose family established and runs the Nutcracker Village. “It takes an average of 500 man-hours just to repair the nutcrackers before each season. Festival preparations begin as early as March each year, with countless hours spent designing and creating new nutcrackers, writing press releases and grants, fundraising and building relationships with sponsors, drafting marketing materials and making logistical arrangements.”
Begun nine years ago, Nelson said the Steubenville Nutcracker Village is a labor of love — and a gift to the community.
“It would be impossible to replicate the fun we had putting together the Steubenville Nutcracker Village for the first time,” she said. “The energy and excitement of being called to create for an unknown outcome, and then to have it received with utter joy and enthusiasm, is still an inspiring memory for each of us. We set a standard for ourselves that year, and it requires much more work now to recreate a festival annually that meets our own expectations and those of the community. Nevertheless, we started out on this adventure with a goal to bring hope to our city and we still believe that all the work is worth it.”
Each year the Nutcracker Village brings visitors from across the United States and even from around the world to Steubenville to celebrate the holiday season in the birthplace of crooner Dean Martin. This year’s Nutcracker Village display will be open from Tuesday to Jan 6.
“Giving personalities to each character is probably one of the easier tasks associated with creating nutcrackers,” Nelson said. “The unique shape, colors and mustache given to each nutcracker create diverse outcomes initially, but sometimes the nutcrackers create their own personalities with an accidental fall and a new scar or a harrowing tale of being stolen and hidden in a basement for a night.”
While no one’s saying what shape the newest nutcrackers will take, they’ll join nearly 200 fan favorites from years past. Themes range from movie and pop culture icons to popular occupations, local universities and professional sports teams and admired area personalities, including Dean Martin himself and the famous Rat Pack. Other crowd -pleasers include the Mouse King, Hermey the Elf, the cast of “TheWizard of Oz,” Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Princess Belle, Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, Starman and five different versions of St. Nicholas from around the world.
Nelson said the annual celebration turns downtown into a winter wonderland, with the characters spread around the business district, “transforming the historic streets into a place of Christmas magic and good cheer.” Some Eastern European touches are seen throughout — a nod to the Nelson family’s heritage. There’ll be weekend visits from St. Nicholas and Santa Claus, along with a spectacular fireworks display on opening night courtesy of the city’s companion celebration, Steubenville Lights Up the Night.
Nelson said their core team “is the same as it was in 2015,” when the festival started, “with a few volunteers rotating in and out through the years.” She said her family still handles the nutcracker creation, organizing the annual event, marketing and managing set-up and tear-down of the event.
“We are particularly grateful for Ken and Becky Perkins of Tri-State Financial Services, who contributed quite a bit in the fundraising department the last few years,” she added. “As we’ve expanded the purview of the Steubenville Nutcracker Village, we have had the opportunity to work with more groups to pull off aspects of the festival, such as the Children’s Corner, the Gluhwein Garden and the all-new Nativity Exhibit. The festival is meant for the community at large and we welcome every opportunity to include energetic volunteers.”
The Nutcracker Village is free and open to the public around the clock for self-guided tours. She said pets are welcome, “but must be crowd-friendly and kept on a leash.”
Nelson said special events and activities are planned on specific days, including the Advent Market, filled with local artisans and crafters; the German Gluhwein Garden, featuring mugs of hot mulled wine, cider and beer; Polar Express hayrides; the Library StoryWalk; the Children’s Corner and much more. Printable and digital maps can be found on the website, and all of the nutcrackers will be numbered from 1-205 for easy navigation.
Nelson said it’s a big deal, not just for her family, but for other downtown merchants who see a spike in business during the Nutcracker Village’s six-week run.