I had a book of Christmas stories as a child, and the one I loved most was the story of Babushka, the Russian Father – or Mother – Christmas. (I have no idea if it’s really Russian or some retro-fitted Christian interpretation of the wooden doll character.)
In the story, Babushka is too busy cooking and cleaning to go with the three Kings to meet the infant Jesus, but later regrets the decision, and follows after the kings, carrying a basket of toys for the baby. When she reaches Bethlehem, she finds she is too late and they have already left – but she carries on searching, “for time means nothing in the search for things that are real”. And every time she passes a house with a sleeping child, and hears of “good deeds”, she leaves a toy, just in case, and carries on looking for the Christ Child.
As a child, it just seemed like a lovely fairy tale: re-reading it as an adult, I can’t get through it without crying (it’s the same with The Happy Prince and The Selfish Giant). Managing to combine Father Christmas with the Nativity, and a hint of Martha and Mary in there – the choice between domestic drudgery and the calling to something higher – makes for a very tear-jerking combination. But with a happy ending for the children because they wake up to find a toy by their bed… as long as they’ve been good.
Published in The Lion Christmas Book, ed. Mary Batchelor, Lion Hudson, 1984
Chosen by Alison Gibbs. Alison is an English graduate turned advertising exec turned local community worker and folklore & fairy tale enthusiast.