The story of the Nutcracker is a ubiquitous, but delightful, part of December.
The original book, published by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1816, is much darker than the familiar ballet. There are curses to break, a seven-headed mouse king to defeat, nightmares, and extortion. The ballet follows the basic outline of the book's plot, but leaves out much of the disturbing back story.
Several picture books retell the friendlier and more popular Tchaikovsky ballet version. My grandmother gave me a copy of Deborah Hautzig's book in the 80s--my first introduction to the Nutcracker.
I loved reading it as a little girl, and I love reading it to my class every year. While there are many other retellings available this is my favorite for two reasons:
1) the text is brief! There's nothing worse than trying to do a read-aloud with a wordy book!
2) Diane Goode's illustrations are delightful marzipan confections.
One of my favorite post-reading activities is to have the kids dance!
Years ago, I came across a creative dance lesson using the Waltz of the Snowflakes music. I don't remember the source and no search engines have been able to help me track it down. You can download a copy of it here and if you happen to know the original author, please let me know!