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Russian Christmas Eve and the legend of Babushka.

If you were a child living in Russia many generations ago, you'd celebrate Christmas Eve quite differently than you would today.

Early in the evening, you'd dress in your favorite costume. If you lived on a farm, you might have dressed like a farm animal. Then you'd go from house to house, as trick-or-treaters do. Your neighbors would give you candy, which you wouldn't eat until the first star appeared that evening.

Later, you'd gather with friends and relatives to play games like these:

Friends for the Year

Along with all the boys and girls in the room, you'd write your name on a slip of paper. The boys would put their names in one bag, and the girls would put theirs in another. Then everyone would pick a name. Boys would choose from the boys' bag, and girls would choose from the girls' bag. You'd become friends for the year with the person whose name you picked!

Chicken's Choice

Five piles of wheat grain would be placed in different parts of the kitchen. Each pile would have a name: hope, ring, money, thread, or charcoal.

When your turn came, you'd bring a chicken into the kitchen and place it on the floor. The chicken would walk around until it stopped to eat from one of the piles.

If the chicken stopped at the pile labeled hope, it meant that a wish of yours would be fulfilled. If it stopped at ring, it meant that a good marriage was in your future. Money meant wealth, thread meant hard work, and charcoal meant sadness.

Although few people remember these old games today, there is one Christmas Eve tradition that lives on: people still love to tell the story of Babushka.

Babushka (which means grandmother in Russian) was a poor old woman who'd visit sleeping Russian children every Christmas Eve. She'd search each child's face, then sigh and say to herself, "It is not He." After putting a toy under the child's pillow, she'd dash out of the house and run and run until she reached another house. There, she'd do the same thing as before.

Why would Babushka go from house to house, search each sleeping child's face, sigh, leave a toy, and then run away? Whom was she looking for?

The story goes that Babushka lived alone in a hut. One evening, while cleaning up after her meal, she heard a loud knock at her door. When she opened it, she became frightened.

There stood three kings wearing long white robes and jeweled crowns. Behind them was a very long caravan of camels, horses, donkeys, and people laden with gifts.

"We have seen a bright star," the first king told Babushka. "The prophets say that it will lead us to Christ, the newborn king."

"We are going to visit the child," added the second king, "but we have lost our way."

"We wish for you to help us," said the third king.

Still afraid, Babushka held fast to the door. "There is work to do," she told the kings. "I have neither the time nor the willingness to help you find your way." She closed the door quickly.

After the kings had left, Babushka realized her mistake. Wishing to also bring gifts for the newborn king, she gathered some toys that had belonged to her children. Then she threw a shawl over her shoulders, ran out of her hut, and looked in all directions.

Though Babushka could not fired the kings' caravan, she continued to search for the Christ child by visiting all sleeping children on Christmas Eve and leaving them toys.
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Galina Strizheva (Member): False Russian Legend 1/13/2009 11:30 PM
It is a nice legend about "babushka", but the sad thing is that this legend is not Russian and not known in Russia.
The word "babushka" really means "grandmother" and we have a lot of fairytales with her and unnamed "dedushka" a.k.a "grandfather" as main characters, but no such story as above.

I've tried to find the source of this "Russian Christmas legend", but failed. I suspect it was some book, published in pre-revolution Russia, which translated Italian traditional story to russian. Somehow somebody in US suspected this was a traditional Russian story and retold it as Russian one.

Please, do not cite this "babushka" story as Russian - we have a lot of good Christmas traditions, but not this one.

Irene Galaktionova Woodhead (Member): There's no Russian Christmas figure "Babushka" 11/22/2010 4:59 PM
I second what Galina says above: unfortunately, this Babushka story is just a literary mystification by an English-language author who first thought up this admittedly cute story (Charles Mikolaycak?). There is NO such character in Russian Christian tradition, period. Never has been. I'm a native Russian specializing in Russia's history, culture and folklore so I assure you this "Babushka" story is just a literary joke. I would urge you to update your information.

Galina's suggestion is very valid: it's very possible some 19th-century Russian children's book published a Russified version of the Italian La Fea Befana tale (calling the elderly Italian fairy "babushka" for the kids' convenience?) and some American source (Mr Mikolaycak?) took it for an original Russian legend and based his story on it. Moral: always check your sources :-)))))

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Article Details
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Author:Leon, Dorothy
Publication:Highlights for Children
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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