During the long, long day of the twenty-fourth of December, in an expansive home, somewhere in Germany, a little dark man was seen gliding softly through the entryway. He carried a large chest under his arm. All the residents of the big house, even the three Stahlbaum children, knew it could only be one person.
Counsellor Drosselmeier was not a handsome man. Small and thin, with many wrinkles, he wore a large black patch over his right eye. He had no hair, but wore an ugly white linen had over a white wig cleverly crafted of glass. The children’s godfather, Counsellor Drosselmeier was mysterious, but ingenious. He understood all about clocks and watches and was always making incredible little clockwork contraptions. The Stahlbaum home boasted many beautiful clocks, and when they became sick and couldn’t sing, Godfather Drosselmeier would repair them.
The children, Louisa, Fritz, and Marie, were never quite sure what to make of their godfather. When he came to fix the clocks, Marie would watch nervously, as he pulled off his glass wig and shabby brown coat, tying on a blue apron instead. He would pierce the non-functioning clock with sharp instruments, but it never harmed the clock. On the contrary, it would spring to life again, rattling and striking and singing, to the pleasure of all who heard.
Godfather Drosselmeier always brought a pretty something in his pocket for the children when he came to their house. One time, the trinket was a little man moved his eyes and bowed. Another time, a bird popped in and out of a little box. But the most elaborate gifts came on Christmas Eve. Drosselmeier went to great trouble on their Christmas gifts, the children knew, because after the Counsellor had presented his gifts, their parents always took the treasures away, storing them for safekeeping.
As on all Christmas Eves, Doctor Stahlbaum forbade the children to enter the parlor or the connected drawing room. The house remained dark all day. On this Eve, Fritz and Marie nestled together in a nook in the library across the hall. As dusky twilight set in, the mood was mysteriously dismal. Fritz told Marie he had heard rustling, rattling, and soft banging in the off-limits quarters since dawn. Despite the melancholy scene, Fritz and Marie whispered excitedly, trying to guess what this year’s gifts would be.
Marie complained that her Miss Trutchen doll was getting old. She kept tripping and falling over, leaving sad scratches on her face. As for neatness of dress, discussion of her appearance was altogether out of the question, Marie explained. Scolding did not help the matter in the least. Uninterested in doll discussion, Fritz declared he wanted a bay horse for his stable, and his troops were deficient in the cavalry, as Papa knew.
And then the conversation turned to the speculation of their godfather’s gifts. Marie clapped her hands, joyfully exclaiming, “I wonder what beautiful things Godfather Drosselmeier has made for us this time!”
It was Fritz’s opinion that it had to be a castle, with all kinds of fine soldiers marching up and down, going through their exercises. There would be enemy soldiers, trying to break into the castle. The soldiers residing within the castle walls would fire off their cannons bravely.
“No, no,” cried Marie, interrupting him. “Godfather Drosselmeier told me of a lovely garden with a great lake, where graceful swans with golden collars swim and sing melodious songs. Then a little girl comes out of the garden to the edge of the lake and coaxes the swans to the shore, feeding them marzipan.”
“Swans never eat marzipan,” interjected Fritz, somewhat rudely, “and even Godfather Drosselmeier can’t make a whole garden. Besides that, what the difference? We don’t even get to play with his presents! I like Papa and Mamma’s gifts, because we can keep them and use them whenever we wish.”
As the darkness set in, Fritz and Marie sat close to one another without saying another word, the notes of distant music fluttering at their ears. And then suddenly, a shrill bell broke the stillness. Kling, ling, kling, ling! The children jumped to their feet, staring, transfixed in wonder as the parlor doors flew open, a brilliant light erupting from the room. Papa and Mamma stepped to the doorway, took them by the hand and said, “Come, dear children, and see what Christmas has brought you this year.”