NUTCRACKERS Among Costeaux Bakery’s collection are this Siberian forager, the Easter Bunny, Long John Silver and yet another Santa.

One of the world’s largest collections of nutcracker dolls gazes down on breakfast diners at Healdsburg’s Costeaux French Bakery this time of year, promoting the holiday spirit at the 100-year-old bakery. From mid-November into mid-January, hundreds of the small wood effigies of spirits, tin soldiers, tiny ballerinas and court jesters are on colorful display—a reminder of the bakery’s longstanding enthusiasm for the season.

BAKERY ORPHANAGE One shelf of the Costeaux French Bakery’s annual Nutrcracker Orphanage collection, including archive photos of the 100-year-old bakery’s early days.

“Christmas has been and continues to be a significant time of year for Costeaux,” said Will Seppi, the current president and CEO of the bakery. “Over the century Costeaux has crafted delectable delights that grace tables—from the start of the meal with breads and rolls to the finale with such treats as our St. Honore, Triple Chocolate Mousse or Princess Cake.”

Since 2007, Costeaux has held the Evening with Santa fundraiser benefiting Healdsburg Shared Ministries. Sometimes large families and local companies like to have their holiday parties at the bakery. Even Santa Claus makes an appearance every Saturday morning for breakfast, though he usually can’t stay long because he needs to return to elf management.

“We take great pride in making baked goods that create memories and are part of people’s traditions,” Seppi said.

Yes, but what about the nutcrackers? “I’ll take some responsibility for that, yes,” he admitted. “I was in line looking for a new Santa Claus chair for our annual breakfast Santas. And a woman behind me asked if I collected nutcrackers, because I had a couple in my hand.”

It turned out the woman’s mother had recently passed away, and she had 200 to 300 nutcrackers that were looking for a home. “That’s kind of what kicked us off,” Seppi said.

BRUNCH Sunday breakfast diners are watched by hundreds of nutcrackers, part of Costeaux French Bakery’s annual ‘nutcracker orphanage’ display.

Building an Orphanage 

That would have been 10 years ago, and since that time the collection has grown to roughly twice that number, or perhaps three times, or more. Seppi is intentionally vague on how many nutcrackers line the shelves on the bakery’s north wall—and above the kitchen, and on the counter, and wherever else there’s a flat spot during the Christmas season.

That includes a staging above the holiday cake display, where the Triple Chocolate Mousse and Princess Cake are presented. At eye level, Baby Yoda and Humpty Dumpty nutcrackers surround a family photo of Santa and the kids.

Seppi acknowledged that while his family had personally added to the collection over the years, a large number had come in over the transom, as it were.

“We’ve received them from our guests,” he said. “We’ve received them from community organizations. We’ve been doorbell ditched—left in crates at the back door. We’ve received them in the mail that says, ‘Dear Nutcracker Orphanage, take good care of ’em.’ I kid you not.”

The sum total of that process has meant that the collection, or Nutcracker Orphanage, grows every year. A hard and fast number for the dolls is difficult to calculate. It’s still growing: The bakery has added six more shelves for the collection just this year.

While Seppi proudly affirms that he’s got “the largest collection west of the Russian River,” he’s also careful not to claim any false flags.

HOLIDAY FAVORITES Santa Claus, the Nutcracker King and Humpty Dumpty share the Christmas spirit at Costeaux French Bakery in Healdsburg.

“We would assume that in Europe there are collections that are extensive,” he said. “But I am not aware of anyone that has the Thanksgiving Turkey standing next to Santa Claus, with the Raiders further down the shelf from them. We’ve got Dorothy and the whole crew from Oz. We have farmers, we’ve got grape growers, chefs, cooks, firemen, policemen, the armed forces, Uncle Sam. They’re all there.

“And now we have Humpty Dumpty.”

Ballet Magic

The legend of the Nutcracker derives from the Tchaikovsky ballet, with its midnight war between the gingerbread men and tin soldiers against the army of mice. The 1893 ballet is still popular as a first performance for dance schools, and is one of the top money-earners for many American ballet companies.

It was performed earlier this month by the Santa Rosa Dance Theater at the Spreckles Theater, and the same weekend by a different company at the Luther Burbank Center.

Then there’s “Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker” from the New World Ballet, to be staged on Dec. 23, also at Luther Burbank Center. The 11-piece orchestra that performs jazz arrangements of Tchaikovsky’s music is conducted by Healdsburg Jazz Artistic Director Marcus Shelby.

Seppi was noncommittal when asked if the inhabitants of the Nutcracker Orphanage break out into dance with the stroke of midnight.

“I will tell you, being here at night is very magical,” he said. “Last night we had a party for 70 guests, and it’s pretty cool when the lights are at the right level.”

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2008, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.


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