It snowed today. In true Virginian form, schools were closed, and businesses shut down. Breaking news bulletins were solely on the progress of the winter weather (well, for most of the day).
At one point I found myself watching my niece while my sister and mother ran out to the grocery store just as the first snowflakes of the day were beginning to fall. So my niece and I watched the snow fall as we waited for the to return, and I told her the story of Snegurochka, or the Snow Maiden, a Russian fairy tale. I first discovered the story in my Russian classes at school in Kazakhstan. My Russian teacher, Valentina Ivanovna, loved to use fairy tales for our reading in class.
I discovered the girl, Snegurochka, much earlier, as she is the helper of Ded Moroz, the Russian version of Santa Clause who travels throughout the land bringing presents to children on New Year’s Eve (not Christmas. You can thank the Soviets for that one.) One holiday season, I was asked to dress up as Snegurochka for a Christmas party at a children’s home, which was really fun, and apparently very amusing for all my Russian and Kazakh friends.
I told Jolie a very short version of Snegurochka’s story, mostly because she can’t sit still for more than five minutes, not even to watch the snow. I started to think, though, about how much I like that story, and I decided to share it with you.
I found a couple of versions of the story online, and originally I was just going to repost the story here, but as I read through the stories and thought about the one I had read so many years ago, I ended up rewriting the story for you.
One winter, after the first snowfall, the village children gathered together to play. The woodcutter watched as the children built a snowman, and he was struck by an idea. He hurried home to his wife and called her outside. “Let us build a snowman,” he said. She laughed at his foolishness but joined him as he began to gather up the snow and form it into a figure.
Very soon they had sculpted a beautiful little girl of snow. “Look at our little snow maiden, our Snegurochka,” the wife said. The couple stood back and admired their creation. So lovely was the snow maiden that the woodcutter and his wife were reminded of how much they wished they had a child of their own.
“Little Snegurochka,” the woodcutter said, “how I wish you were a real girl.”
And suddenly, she was. Snegurochka blinked and came to life, just as real as the old woodcutter and his wife. “Hello,” she said. “I have journeyed a long way from the North.” She held out her pale hands and said, “Please, if you would be my parents, I will be a good and kind daughter to you.”
Well, the woodcutter and his wife were overjoyed to accept the beautiful Snegurochka as their child. They hugged her tightly and then joyously introduced her to the people of their village. Their friends and neighbors were so glad for them, for the woodcutter and his wife were loved by all who knew them and were so deserving of a daughter as beautiful and special as Snegurochka. Late into the night, the villagers sang and danced, celebrating the arrival of Snegurochka.
And all during that long Russian winter, Snegurochka lived with the woodcutter and his wife. She helped her mother with housework, and she played with the other children of the village. And every day she met her father at the edge of the forest as her returned with wood for the villages hovels and hearths. He would swing her up to sit high on the wood-laden sledge and pull her through the village and back to their tiny home where there was food and warmth and joy waiting for them.
And the old woodcutter, his wife, and Snegurochka were very happy.
But Russian winters, although long, do not last forever.
The days grew longer, the sun shone brighter, and soon the heavy snow began to melt away. Snegurochka, who had always smiled and laughed, now grew quiet and still. When the other children asked her to play, she refused, and soon she wouldn’t leave the house, not even to meet her dear father, whom she loved so much. The woodcutter and his wife worried and fretted over the change in their daughter, but Snegurochka only sighed and remained silent when they asked her what troubled her.
At last one day, Snegurochka broke her silence: “Mama, Papa,” she said, and her eyes filled with tears, “I must leave you today.”
“Leave? Why would you leave us, Snegurochka?”
“I must go away to the land of winter,” she said. “For spring has come, and I shall soon melt away.”
The parents begged her to stay. They didn’t understand her, and they didn’t want to. They had wanted a child for so long, they couldn’t let her go now. So upset were her parents that her father got up and shut the door, locking it so his darling child couldn’t leave.
“Papa,” Snegurochka said. “I am a child of the snow. I cannot stay forever.”
But the woodcutter refused to open the door, and his wife clung to Snegurochka and hugged her tightly. So Snegurochka agreed to stay. “For one more night,” she said.
But the next night the woodcutter and his wife couldn’t bear to let her leave. Snegurochka loved her parents so and was too distressed by their pleas to leave. “For one more night,” she told them again.
And so it continued for seven more nights. Each day Snegurochka grew paler and quieter. Snegurochka knew the end was coming, and she longed to leave.
“Mama, Papa,” she said. “I must go. I must return to the North.”
As they had, her parents begged her not to go, but even as they hugged her and cried over her, their little snow girl melted away. The woodcutter and his wife wept long and bitterly into the night.
At dawn, Spring arrived, fresh and cheery and warm, but the woodcutter and his wife were too lonely to welcome her. They kept to themselves, lonely and sad. The days went by, and Spring passed on to Summer, and Summer to Autumn, and the woodcutter and his wife only had each other.
And one day the snow began to fall again. The woodcutter built up the fire so that it burned bright, and he sat beside his wife to eat his supper. Outside they could hear the village children welcoming Winter with shouts of laughter and joy, but inside the woodcutter’s home it was quiet, save for the crackle of the fire.
It was icy and cold outside, and a wind from the North blew through the village and rattled the door of the woodcutter’s home.
The woodcutter’s wife sat up straight. “Do you hear?” she asked. “There’s someone at the door!”
And indeed, as the wind rattled the door, the woodcutter could hear a soft but steady knock-knock-knocking. He stood. “Do you hear?” he asked. “There is someone calling out to us.”
And indeed, as the wind sang at the door, a sweet voice called out, “Mama! Papa! Open the door!”
Without thinking, without doubting, the woodcutter and his wife hurried to the door and threw it open to the cold. There stood their darling Snegurochka, her eyes bright, her cheeks cheery, and her smile wide. “The snow has brought me back to you!” she cried and ran into her mother’s arms.
All that winter, Snegurochka lived with her parents, the old woodcutter and his wife. She helped her mother with housework, she played with the other children of the village, and every day she met her father at the edge of the forest. And the old woodcutter swung her high onto the wood-laden sledge and pulled her through the village back to their home where Snegurochka’s mother had dinner on the table.
And when Spring came and it was time for Snegurochka to leave for the North, the old woodcutter and his wife did not weep or try to keep her, for they knew she would return again when the forests of Russia were once again heavy with snow.
Thus, Snegurochka, the little maiden of snow, brought warmth and joy to the woodcutter and his wife every long and cold Russian winter for many, many years.
If you’re interested, there’s also a Snegurochka cartoon. It’s in Russian, but I did find it on YouTube with English subtitles. You can watch it here.