Eri Martin is having fun this holiday season: His little army of soldiers is finally getting its due.

Through the end of January, 14-year-old Eri is displaying his unique assortment of nutcracker figurines at the Windham Public Library.

There are more than 20 versions in the display case on the building’s second floor. There seems to be everything imaginable. There’s a pirate-themed nutcracker, a pilgrim, a bagpiper, a Boston Red Sox player, even a Halloween-themed skeleton version.

“I got my first one in 2001,” Eri said. “It was after watching ‘The Nutcracker’ ballet.”

Most of us are familiar with the bearded, top hat-wearing soldier nutcracker, and most holiday seasons, “The Nutcracker” ballet is performed at Merrill Auditorium in Portland.

Since he was 4 years old, Eri has done ballet. He’s even performed in “The Nutcracker” at the Merrill with the Maine State Ballet over the years.

“I’ve been a mouse, a party child and part of the cavalry,” Eri said. “It’s very exciting to be on that stage.”

As their name suggests, nutcracker figurines began as functional tools for crushing hard-shelled nuts. Despite the late 19th century date of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, the figurines have only been part of America’s holiday tradition since after World War II. Intrigued American GIs in Germany discovered these fascinating figurines in gift shops and brought them back home with them.

Take a closer look. Upon examining a nutcracker figurine, you’ll notice many display a prominent row of teeth. Allegedly this has its roots in German folklore where nutcrackers were given to ward off evil spirits; they’re symbols of good luck in Germany and bear their gritted teeth to ward off any force that might be harboring ominous intentions.

It’s said that Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet also came to America shortly after World War II.

Eri is enjoying the holiday break from Windham High School and plans to keep on collecting these famous figurines. A couple of years ago, he approached the library wishing to exhibit the collection but was told he’d have to wait as there was (and still is) a long waiting list. The library also wanted to display the collection during the holidays. Eri designed the exhibit himself.

The display also includes a large quilt adorned with nutcracker images made by Eri’s mother.

The library is at 217 Windham Center Road; call 892-1908 for more information and hours of operation.

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at:

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