The Legend of Babushka
There is a tale that has been told throughout the years about an old Russian woman named Babushka. Old people nod their heads in agreement as they hear parents tell their children about Babushka. Children's eyes scan the face of every old woman they pass during the winter months, trying to find this legendary person who visits the home of every child at Christmas time.
Her story started many years ago in a small home out in the country. She lived alone in a small hut that stood along side a crossroads where four roads met. Even though she lived far away from neighbors or any town, Babushka was entertained by wagons filled with hay pulled by donkeys carts loaded with vegetables pushed by farmers, riders on horseback and strangers passing by on foot during the summer. But, during the long Russian winter, only the sound of the birds she fed with the blackened crusts of wheatbread left over from her meals kept her company.
Her days were short, and her nights were long during the winter months. Babushka was frail and unable to cut large amounts of wood to heat her home. In addition, she was poor and could not afford to light up the cottage at night with expensive candles. This is why she spent much of her time in the evenings curled up beneath her warm quilts dreaming about spring flowers and warm sunny skies.
On one of those long nights Babushka thought she heard the tinkling of bells and sounds like those made by travelers being carried on the cold wind. At first, she told herself that she only heard icicles clinking on frozen branches. But, the sounds grew louder. She did hear the sound of bells, but it was not the familiar sound of the bells on a troika, the traditional Russian three-horse sleigh. Nor, did she hear the neighing of horses or the braying of donkeys like most travelers would use. There were voices that grew louder as they came closer to her home. She heard strange grunts from animals that were unfamiliar to her ears.
She pulled back the quilts and lit one of her precious candles and pulled her robe around her. She folded a scarf and wrapped it around her head and then held her candle to the window. As she scraped the frost off to see better, she was startled to hear a knock at her door. Opening the door, she was even more surprised to see a caravan stopped outside of her hut. Babushka saw three tall hairy beasts with long faces. Each had long, tall legs with padded feet at the bottom and a hump on its back. Sitting on the back of each animal sat a richly dressed man.
The men were dressed in warm, expensive looking fur wraps and wore crowns set with jewels over cloths that kept the cold off their heads. The bells she heard were attached to the reigns the men held tightly in their hands. Each of the men had a number of servants with them, and one of these men was standing at her door trying to ask directions to a place she had never heard of before.
Seeing Babushka's confusion, one of the wealthy men spoke a command to the beast he rode. It knelt and allowed him to step off. "We are Kings on a long journey from a land far to the east, the man told the confused old woman. We have seen a wondrous star in the sky and have been following it. It is supposed to lead us to a town where a newborn baby lies. But, the star is blocked by clouds. Can you tell us the way to the next village where we can find shelter for the night?"
"Who is this child? And why are you trying to find him?" asked Babushka.
"The child is a King, and we go to find him and worship him, and we bring him gifts. Come with us Babushka," the man suggested. "You will never have this opportunity again."
But, Babushka looked at the dark sky. She felt the cold of the winter wind. She shook her head and said, "Perhaps tomorrow in the light of the day, when the air is warmer."
But the Kings could not wait for the old woman to make up her mind and left Babushka alone in her home listening to the sound of the clattering bells as the animals the King called camels rode into the night.
By morning, the tracks of the caravan were filled with snow making Babushka wonder if her memory of the night visitors was only a dream. She kept thinking about their quest to find the special child. She had no children of her own, no one to love and no one to love her. The more she thought of the invitation to go with the Kings, the sadder the old woman became.
Finally, the old woman could stand the sadness no more. She wrapped her warmest scarf about her head and pulled her cloak and a shawl about her shoulders. She filled a basket with breads and sweets and gifts for the child and left her empty home behind forever. She walked through village after village asking people about the special child who was a King. She told them about the visit by the Three Wise Kings and the star they followed.
She carried treats and small gifts with her, so children would not run away when she tried to look closely at them and see if they were the special child she sought.
The years have passed, and old Babushka probably doesn't even realize that the baby grew up long ago. She still runs fast along the crowded streets and over the country fields tired and out of breath trying to catch up with the Three Wise Kings and find the special child. She only stops at Christmas Eve as she searches through every nursery looking for the child that is Christ the Lord.
She has a special fondness for babies. She bends over their cradles, looks closely at each child before dropping a tear on their pillow when she sees the Christ Child is not there, She gives each child she finds a small present and a piece of candy from her basket or apron pocket before hobbling away to continue searching for the Christ Child.
Dr. Mike Lockett is an educator, storyteller and children's author from Normal, IL. Dr. Lockett has given more than 4000 programs across the USA and as far away as eastern Asia. Contact Mike by writing to Mike@mikelockett.com in order to book him for a storytelling program or young authors program or to inquire about purchasing his books and CDs. More stories and information about storytelling can be found at www.mikelockett.com
Tellers Note: I first learned this story in the 1970's. It was called a Russian Folktale. Dr. Margaret Read MacDonald's Sourcebook for Storytellers, First Edition, 1982 - cites the story as Russian in origin. I traced the story back to an American author, edith Matilda Thomas (1907). She also called the story a Russian folktale.