Thursday, December 21, 2006

Spitting at the devil

I decided to read something Christmasy, and rather than choosing something from our Christmas treasury, which we've had forever, I went with a story in a Nikolai Gogol collection that my daughter will be getting for Christmas (she's taking a Gogol class next semester).

Called "The Night Before Christmas," it begins like this:

The last day before Christmas had passed. A wintry, clear night came. The stars peeped out. The crescent moon rose majestically in the sky to give light to good people and all the world, so that everyone could merrily go caroling and glorify Christ. The frost had increased since morning; but it was so still that the frosty creaking under your boots could be heard for half a mile. Not one group of young lads had shown up under the windows of the houses yet; only the moon peeked stealthily into them, as if inviting the girls sprucing themselves up to hurry and run out to the creaking snow. Here smoke curled from the chimney of one cottage and went in a cloud across the sky, and along with the smoke rose a witch riding on a broom.

The next couple of paragraphs introduce us to the devil, who pockets the moon temporarily in a scheme to play a trick on the blacksmith, an artistic type who's embarrassed the devil with his paintings for the church for much too long. The blacksmith's mother is a witch, and her Christmas eve tryst with the devil is continually interrupted by townsmen, who want to make love to her as well. By the time the blacksmith comes home to Momma, rebuffed by the vain girl who he loves and feeling very sorry for himself, all the men and the devil are hiding in sacks, which the blacksmith assumes need to be carried back to his forge. . . if he doesn't decide to kill himself first. Once he learns he's carrying the devil on his back, the blacksmith tricks him into helping him obtain the slippers off of the Tsaritsa's feet--the task the vain girl has set for him if he is to marry her. By morning the girl will fear that the blacksmith is dead and decide that she loves him after all; she'll be so happy to see him that she'll agree to marry him even before he shows her the slippers. After they're married, the blacksmith paints a picture of the devil at the church, inspiring the villagers to spit and call the devil a caca.

Not very Christmasy at all, in case you're wondering.

1 comment:

zhoen said...

Natalie Babbit - The Devil's Storybook. Not the same story, but you reminded me of this wonderful collection.