It's rather unusual to find someone who has no experience with the holiday classic, The Nutcracker. But I write to you today as one such individual.

Sure, I was vaguely aware of images like dancing mice and a Sugar Plum Fairy. But the nuts and bolts of the story and the ballet, not so much. I knew it was something I had to experience, but simply had never made it a priority. Until this year.

With a good friend, I set out to the Wortham Theatre Center to see Houston Ballet's much lauded version of the tale. For many in Houston, The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition, passed down from generation to generation. The audience was comprised of young girls no older than five all the way up to octogenarians, all eager to see the story of young Clara and her night of whimsy.

Though light on actual ballet, I was fascinated by the set and action at the beginning of the first act, often described as "the party scene." The festive Christmas Eve celebration of Herr Stahlbaum and his family is familiar, reminiscent to many of us of our own familial holiday celebrations -- though perhaps not quite as elaborate. There are gift exchanges and children's antics, music and dancing. We certainly identify with Clara, the Stahlbaum's young daughter who enjoys the festivities, despite the teasing and mischief of her brother Fritz.

The transformation of Clara's Nutcracker gift into a live prince is beautifully done. The prince takes Clara on a magical adventure to the Kingdom of Sweets where she is entertained by the Sugarplum Fairy's subjects. There is a Spanish dance, an Arabian dance, a Chinese dance and a Russian dance to name just a few. The performances culminate with a dazzling grand pas de deux between the Nutcracker Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy.

It's easy to see why The Nutcracker is the most popular annual stage performance in Houston. As a ballet, there are of course no words, only music and dance to convey action. Yet the story and the scenery leave the audience -- young and old alike -- spellbound.