Babushka is a fairytale set in Russia about a little, old woman. It begins on a snowy and cold night inside a little hut with a warm fire and a rocking chair, and Babushka sitting and rocking quietly when she hears a knocking on her door. In Russia, on a cold winter night, Babushka knows it would be rude not to open the door. She rises from her chair, shuffles over, and opens it. Three colorfully dressed men are cold and wet and hungry and she invites them in. They stomp in with snow and mud and muck on their boots. She feeds them and lets them warm themselves by the fire. Then they tell Babushka why they have come.
“We have come here to ask you to join us. We are wise men and we have studied the stars. We know that a baby will be born tonight in Bethlehem — the Prince of Peace. We were told to stop here and bring you with us.
“What do you have in those wrapped boxes?” she asked.
“We are bringing gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold, to the newborn child.”
“Oh, I am an old, old lady and my blood is thin and it is cold. I can’t go cavorting out in this weather.”
Annoyed by the intrusion of the three wise men into her peaceful evening, and ashamed because she had no gift for this Prince of Peace, Babushka showed the men to the door and sat back down on her rocker.
She rocked and she rocked, but she was agitated. Why would I want to see this Prince of Peace, she asked herself? Then she imagined this wee baby and her heart opened.
She did have something for the newborn child. No spices and jewels, but, in her closet she had baby clothes, baby blankets, toys, and trinkets — all kinds of things she had saved after her own child had died.
“I will go with them,” she decided. “I will leave in the morning and find these three wise men.”
Babushka set out at sunup wearing all she could fit on her body. Three pairs of socks, three vests, three coats, and a big red shawl over her head and tied around her neck. In a big basket she carried toys and trinkets, blankets and sheets for the baby. She asked everywhere she went if anyone had seen the three wise men, but no one had. Babushka stopped along her way, offering a gift to every household with child.
Babushka never caught up with the three wise men, and she never made it to Bethlehem that Christmas morning. But she continued on, walking always to the next house, always farther, trudging onward. Babushka continues to this very day. Every Christmas morning she brings toys and gifts to families with children.
The odd history of this story is that it is not commonly known in Russia, and seems to have been created by the American poet, Edith Matilda Thomson. Apparently Thomson’s poem was so popular it was retold and retold, until the origin of the tale was lost. Which brings me to wonder about our own Santa Claus.
When I looked up the origin, I came upon the book, Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years, by Phyllis Siefker. The author makes a case that Santa Claus is not related to jolly old Saint Nicholas, originally from Turkey, but belongs to a lineage of ‘Wild Men’ who were worshiped in fertility rites and came to America with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. Siefker’s Santa Claus belongs to the line of pagan heroes like Robin Hood and Puck, and to harlequins and jesters and those wild men wearing goat skins and bear fur. Perhaps even our own Johnny Appleseed with his horny feet and tin hat shares these same ancestors.
We remember these ‘wild men’ most of all for their generous spirit — food for the poor, trees for the settlers. And we remember Babushka because she transformed her personal loss and loneliness into an offering of love. Babushka has never stopped giving. This is the real message of the Prince of Peace.