Nikolai Gogol: The Night Before Christmas

The Night Before Christmas
by Nikolai Gogol (Noch, pere Rozhdestvom, 1832)
translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett (1926)
New Directions (2011)
80 pp

I should have posted this yesterday, but at the stroke of midnight December 23 – 24 I got incredibly sick.  I agree: being sick on Christmas Eve is no fun.  But I must say it was better to be sick on Christmas Eve than to go through what Gogol puts his characters through in The Night Before Christmas.

It begins peacefully:

The last day before Christmas had passed. A clear winter night had come; the stars peeped out; the moon rose majestically in the sky to light good people and all the world so that all might enjoy singing kolyadki and praising the Lord.

That peace doesn’t last long. Within a couple of sentences a witch has taken off and is stealing all of the stars from the skies. To make matters worse, the devil steals the moon. Such is anadolu yakasi escort bayan the setup to a type of romantic comedy. The town blacksmith, Vakula, is in love with Oksana, who, “like a beauty, was full of caprices.” Oksana’s father, Tchub, doesn’t like Vakula — not at all. But he does like Vakula’s mother, Soloha (who happens to be the witch). Unfortunately for Tchub, the devil also desires Soloha.

No one has an easy time with these relationships. Soloha actually does desire Tchub (not the devil), but everyone is after her. Furthermore, if Vakula manages to wed the shallow Oksana, that will make it impossible for Soloha to wed Tchub (custom prohibits the parents of the young couple from wedding themselves). Not that it’s likely Vakula will be able to win Oksana’s heart. For one thing, she does not love him. For another, to make it impossible, Oksana has said that the only way she’ll marry Vakula is if he brings to her “the very slippers the Tsarita wears.”

Surely we can see where this is all going. Now that Vakula’s interests are aligned with the devil’s, they manage a way forward.

The Night Before Christmas is a lot of fun. No, it’s not much more, but it is certainly worth the short time it takes to read it, even if holiday cheer doesn’t necessarily ring through it.

Merry Christmas to all!

10 thoughts on “Nikolai Gogol: The Night Before Christmas

  1. This seems like a good fun story! I had read some of Gogol’s short stories in the past and had enjoyed them. I will check this one out.
    Merry Christmas to you!

  2. You aren’t late with this at all! Christmas was celebrated in Orthodox Russia on January 6 – the Feast of the Epiphany. My friends in Russia called December 25 “American Christmas.” S Rozhdestvom!

  3. BTW I forgot to say that I’ve ordered it for my ‘Russian’ shelf, to-be-read so that I can honestly tell any Russians that I meet in Moscow that I’ve read Gogol…

  4. @ Lisa – if you have time I also recommend Aleksandr Pushkin’s stories “The Shot,” “The Blizzard,” and “The Stationmaster.” Pushkin is the grand old man of Russian literature – more for his poetry, which doesn’t translate well – but his stories are also excellent. Younjust won’t be considered literate in Moscow if you’ve ever read Pushkin! If you have a chance to visit the Novodevichy Cemetery, you can visit Gogol’s grave. His remains were disinterred to be moved from the Danilov Monastery to Novodevichy in 1931. His body was found face down, which led to speculation that he suffered from narcolepsy & had been buried alive. Have a great trip – I’m jealous!

  5. @Jerri, I shall take your excellent advice, we’re not going till Spring (autumn in Moscow) so I’ll have plenty of time.
    Where is Novodevichy? Our tour only goes to Moscow and St Petersburg, but we have a couple of extra days in both cities to do our own thing as well, and we plan to use those for musical/literary pilgrimages of one sort or another.

  6. Gogol’s Christmas Eve story can be read to small children. I used to enjoy it in my childhood and now my sons 3 and 9 years old where excited to listened to it. However the majority of his other works are destined to adults only. You can see some of them here http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gogol/nikolai/index.html I agree with the opinion that Nikolai Gogol is russian Edgar Allan Poe. This is a strange fact because they weren’t aware of each other.

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