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By Gwen Clayton

In the “Nutcracker” ballet, young Clara and her prince arrive in the Land of the Sweets, where they are promptly entertained by Spanish dancers showering them with gifts of a magical candy knowns as chocolate.

“Chocolate is America’s favorite flavor,” said Dana Cain, owner of Dana Cain Events, and organizer of the Colorado Chocolate Festival. The festival takes place over Mothers Day Weekend at the Denver Mart. 2018 will be the event’s 11th anniversary.

“The first year I did this, I was shocked at how many thousands of people showed up,” she said. “You just say ‘chocolate’ and people come out. We have chocolatiers from all the over the region – most are local, but we get some national brands too. There are thousands of samples – customized truffles, candies made in small batches, all different kinds of chocolate.”

As hectic as Mother's Day weekend may be, Cain admits that December is the busiest season for her vendors.

“Most of the chocolatiers I know are swamped this time of year because they’re so popular,” she said.

One local chocolatier is Roberta Poirier who owns Roberta’s Chocolates on West 29th Avenue. The Edgewater location has been open for 16 years, having been in Arvada before that. All chocolates are made onsite.

“We do everything here,” she said. “We make truffles, fudge, filled candies, suckers, bars, patties – we have a full-service chocolate shop.”

She has one rule for her employees.

“I tell everybody if they’re making, bowing or bagging it: Everything ends in a smile,” she said. “Nobody buys chocolate to make anybody mad. This is the happy, merry Christmas.”

The aisles of her tiny shop are packed with hundreds of festive, elaborately decorated, pre-packaged gifts, and behind the counter are confections available for custom boxing or a la carte purchases.

Sean McCarthy and his wife Jessica and sister Cindy are frequent customers of Roberta’s Chocolates. Living only a few blocks away, the group stopped in to the store to pick up some jams and dairy-free/gluten-free gifts.

“They have a lot of unique knick-knacks and presents and gift ideas, all local-made stuff,” Sean said. “It’s great.”

When they got to the counter, the trio ended up doing some extreme chocolating as they dared to sample Roberta’s chocolate-covered jalapeños. Jessica just bit off the chocolate coating, but Cindy chomped down the whole piece.

“I tried it as well,” Sean said. “It’s phenomenal.”

“What’s great is that they have so many adventurous flavors,” Cindy added.

Even without a spicy, green vegetable under its shell, chocolate can actually be healthy.

“Chocolate is one of the highest antioxidants on the planet,” said holistic health coach Amira Watters, owner of The Wild Flower Alternative & Holistic Health Service in Lakewood. “The darker, the better. Chocolate is very high in ORAC value.”

ORAC is an abbreviation for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity.

So this year, be sure to hang your stocking by the chimney with extra care, because Saint Nicholas might just have stuffed some melty, yummy cacao product inside.