Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters – In the Spirit of Christmas 3

Just one week to go before Christmas Eve, which was my mother’s birthday. Each year the day brings memories of hilarious hours in the kitchen with my mother stuffing the turkey and massaging it with butter, making extra supplies of mince pies and sausage rolls and preparing vegetables for the Christmas dinner.

Another feature of my growing-up Christmases was getting out of bed in the shivering cold in time to get to Plygain, the 6 a.m. Christmas service at the chapel we used to attend, which was Tabernacl Chapel in St. David’s. Plygain is a traditional service which still takes place at cock-crow in quite a few different parts of Wales. On your way to Plygain, the sky is still dark. By the time you come out, wishing everyone “Nadolig Llawen”, “Happy Christmas”, the light is just coming into the sky.

By tradition, anyone who comes to the Plygain service in St. David’s can take part if they wish by giving a reading, a prayer or a Christmas carol. The last time I told the Baboushka story, which is my offering here today, was at a Plygain service.


The Baboushka story is Russian, ‘baboushka’ being the word for an old woman who, in a sense, is everyone’s grandmother. I love the story because it’s not just about giving, though this is its central theme. It’s also about the ability to change. ‘I’m too old to change,’ my father used often to say after he retired. Then in the last years of his life he began saying a different thing: ‘You’re never too old to change.’ It seems to me this is a useful approach in these difficult times.

Baboushka – the story

Baboushka was old and very poor. She lived alone except for her cat. One night as she was snoozing in front of her stove, she woke to hear a tremendous kerffuffle going on outside in the snow. She could hear men’s voices and the harrumphing of horses and another sound, too, which she could not recognise.
Then came a knock at the door. Baboushka felt a little afraid. Earlier in the day it had been snowing a lot and Baboushka was not expecting callers. When she managed to get up and open the door, she was greatly surprised at what she saw. The snow was still falling and had become a lot deeper and, only just visible, there were horses and men – and wasn’t that something that looked like a camel? ¬A couple of men appeared to be servants, the way they were behaving, and two or three looked very grand. One of the grand-looking ones came forward. ‘We are lost,’ he said to Baboushka. ‘May we come inside for a while?’
Baboushka did not want to be troubled. Yet she could not refuse the stranger’s request. She made way for the men and when all were inside, she busied herself with the fire and boiled up water and made them tea. The same man who had spoken to her at the door explained that they were on a great journey, hoping to find a new baby who was destined to become a king of peace that everyone could follow. They were following a new bright star in the sky that was going to lead them to him and they were bringing gifts for the child. But the snows had blotted out the stars in the sky and now they were grateful to have a short rest.
Baboushka was very tired. She’d listened and heard and talked a bit too and now all she wanted was sleep. The last thing she heard before nodding off was the visitors urging her to join them. ‘Why don’t you come with us?’ they asked. ‘Oh no,’ said Baboushka, ‘I can’t do that.’ She was old and tired and had to look after her cat.
It was light when Baboushka woke up again and the men and their animals were all gone. As she looked round outside, she saw that, although the snow had now stopped, their tracks were almost completely covered. For a moment, she felt only relief. Then she began to wonder. Why shouldn’t she go after them? What was holding her back? ‘Of course,’ she told herself. ‘The cat!’
But then as Baboushka looked round her house, she began to notice things she might give as presents. Quickly she fetched a big basket and before she could change her mind, she began filling it with things – a warm scarf she’d knitted and a shawl she’d been given and some old toys she’d kept since her childhood. Then she looked down at her cat, still fast asleep by the hearth, and quickly she fetched another basket and plonked the cat inside. Last of all, she fetched her stick.
Then Baboushka set off on her way to join the three wise men on their journey. She never found them. Almost as soon as she started, she lost sight of their tracks and when she reached her nearest village, she started encountering people who seemed greatly cheered when she offered them gifts. There was a boy she recognised who looked very cold. He smiled and thanked her when she gave him a scarf. Further on, she saw a mother with a baby who welcomed the shawl she offered.
And so it went on and on and on. Baboushka’s basket never emptied and some say she is still on her journey today, still cheering people with her giving.

Nothing to add:

– except to say that the photos I’ve used with my story today are of some fascinating figures made out of sacking that I’ve had  for some time. They’ve been gathering dust in the spare room. Today seemed like a good moment to fetch them down and share them even if only through photos.


You can also read occasional blogs by me on the Early Learning HQ website.  Early Learning HQ offers hundreds of free downloadable foundation stage and key stage one teaching resources. It also has an extensive blog section with contributions from a wide range of early years professionals, consultants and storytellers. For details of the Society for Storytelling, click here.

Next week: Happy Christmas! Nadolig Llawen!

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply