When people hear the word ‘Babushka’, they usually think of the small Russian dolls that open in the middle and contain smaller versions of themselves.
But ‘Babushka’ – which means ‘grandmother’ in Russian – is also a famous Christmas story in Russia about the story of an old woman who met the Three Wise men on their way to see Jesus.
According to the story, a women called Babushka used to live in a small peasant town in Russia. She always worked hard cleaning and keeping her house tidy; it was the cleanest house in the whole village. But Babushka’s talents didn’t stop there. Her garden was full of flowers and her cooking was fantastic.
One evening she was busy dusting and cleaning away, she was so engrossed in her work that she didn’t hear her neighbours outside talking about a bright new star in sky. She had heard about the star but thought it was a lot of fuss about a star. “I don’t have the time to look because I’m so behind with my work.” she said. “I must work all night!”
She missed the star as it shone in the sky, and she missed the little line of twinkling lights coming down towards the village at dawn. She didn’t hear the sounds of the pipes and drums playing music, and she missed her neighbours whispering in wonder at what the lights were.
And she finally missed when all the villagers went quiet, and didn’t hear when the sound of footsteps came up the path to her door. But she didn’t miss the loud knocking on her front door moments later! “What is that?” she wondered. When the door opened, Babushka’s mouth dropped in amazement.
There were three kings at her door with one of their servants! “My masters need a place to rest,” said the servant, “and yours is the best house in the village.” “You want to stay here?” asked Babushka. “Yes”, replied the servant. “It would only be until night falls and the star appears again.” Babushka was nervous, and gulped. “Come in, then.” she said.
As soon as they walked across the threshold, the three kings were delighted with all the food they saw: home-baked bread, pies and cakes. Babushka dashed about, serving them and offering the best of her hospitality, asking lots of questions.
“Have you come a long way?” Babushka asked. “A very long way”, sighed the first king, Caspar. “Where are you going?” she continued. “We’re following the new star”, said the second king, Melchior. “But where?”, Babushka wondered.
The three kings said they didn’t know, but they believed that the star would lead them to a new-born king, a King of Earth and Heaven. “Why don’t you come with us?” asked the third king, Balthasar. “You could bring him a gift like we do. I bring gold, and my colleagues bring spices and perfumes.”
“Oh”, said Babushka, “I’m not sure that he would welcome me” she said. “And what could I bring for a gift? Toys! I know I could bring a toy. I’ve got a cupboard full of toys.” she said sadly. “My baby son died when he was small.”
Balthasar stopped Babushka as she went to tidy the kitchen up. “This new king could be your king too. Come with us when the star appears tonight”, he said. “I’ll think about it”, sighed Babushka.
As the kings slept, Babushka tidied up as quietly as she could. “What a lot of extra work there was!” she thought, “and this new king, what a funny idea, to go off with the kings to find him.”
Babushka shook herself. There was no time for dreaming, all this washing-up and putting away had to be done. “Anyway,” she thought, “how long would she be away? What would she wear? What about the gift?” She sighed. “There is so much to do. The house will have to be cleaned when they’ve gone. I couldn’t just leave it.”
Suddenly it was night-time again and the star was in the sky. “Are you ready, Babushka?” asked Balthasar. “I’ll come tomorrow,” Babushka called, “I must just tidy here first and find a gift.”
The kings went away sadly. Babushka ran back into her house, keen to get on with her work. Finally, she went to the small cupboard, opened the door and gazed at all the toys. But they were very dusty. They weren’t fit for a baby king. Babushka decided that they would all need to be cleaned, and she polished all of the toys until each one shined.
Then Babushka looked through the window: it was morning! The star had came and gone. She knew the kings would have found somewhere else to rest by now, and that she could easily catch them up, but she felt so tired and soon she fell asleep.
The next thing Babushka knew, she was awake and it was dark outside. She had slept all day! Babushka quickly pulled on her cloak, packed the toys in a basket and ran down the road, the same way the kings had gone before her.
Everywhere she went, Babushka asked “Have you seen the kings?” “Oh yes,” everyone told her, “we saw them. They went that way”, as they pointed further down the road. Babushka followed the trail of the kings, as the villages got bigger and became towns. But Babushka never stopped, and soon she came to a city.
“The palace,” she thought. “That’s where the royal baby would be born.” But when Babushka got to the door, she was disappointed. ”No, there is no royal baby here,” said the palace guard when she asked him.
“What about three kings?” she asked. “Oh yes, they came here, but they didn’t stay long” said the doorman. “They were soon on their journey.” “But where to?” asked Babushka. “Bethlehem”, the doorman replied. “But I can’t imagine why. It’s a very poor place.”
Babushka set off towards Bethlehem, and by evening she had arrived and had been travelling for a long time. She went into the local inn and asked about the kings. “Oh yes,” said the landlord, “the kings were here two days ago. They were very excited, but they didn’t even stay the night.”
“And what about a baby?” Babushka asked. “Yes, there was a baby” said the landlord. “The kings asked about a baby, too.” When he saw the disappointment in Babushka’s eyes, he stopped. “If you’d like to see where the baby was,” he said quickly, “it was across the yard there. I couldn’t offer the couple anything better at the time. My inn was really full, so they had to go in the stable.”
Babushka followed him across the yard. “Here’s the stable.” he said, and left her. “Babushka?” Someone was calling her from the doorway. He looked kindly at her. She wondered if he knew where the family had gone. She knew now that the baby king was the most important thing in the world to her. “They have gone to Egypt, and safety,” he told her. “And the kings have returned to their countries. But one of them told me about you. I am sorry to tell you, but you are too late.”
Babushka was very sad that she had missed the baby. She thanked the man, and returned home to clean her house.