December 23, 2014



This year, kids, I turned forty. So, it turns out I have seen a New Year’s yolka forty times. That’s a lot!

Well, most likely for the first three years of my life I had no idea what a yolka was. Mama probably brought me out in her arms. And it is likely that my tiny black eyes registered little interest in the decorated yolka.

But, kids, by the time I hit my fifth year, I knew quite well what a yolka was.

And I impatiently awaited this joyous holiday. I even peeped through the keyhole of the door, to watch my mother decorate the yolka.

My sister Lelya was seven years old at the time. And she was an exceptionally bold girl.

Once, she said to me:

“Minka, mama’s gone into the kitchen. Let’s go into the room where the yolka is and see what’s going on.”

And so my sister Lelya and I go into the room. And we see a very beautiful yolka. And there are presents lying under the tree. And hanging on the tree are colored beads, flags, lights, gilded nuts, pastilas and Crimean apples.

My sister Lelya says: “We won’t look at the presents. But instead, let’s eat one pastila each.

And she walks up to the tree and in the blink of an eye gobbles down a pastila that is hanging from a string.

And I say: “Lelya, since you ate a pastila, then I am also going to eat something.”

And I walk up to the tree and take a little bite out of an apple.

Lelya says: “Minka, since you took a bite from an apple, then I am going to eat another pastila and then I am also going to take this candy.”

Lelya was a very tall and leggy girl. And she could reach quite high up.

She stood on her tiptoes and, with her huge mouth, began to eat a second pastila.

Me, I was surprisingly short. And I was almost unable to reach anything, except for that one apple hanging rather low down.

I say: “Since you, Lelishcha, ate a second pastila, then I will take another bite from this apple.”

And again I held the apple in my hands and took another little bite.

Lelya says: “Since you took another bite of the apple, then I will no longer stand on ceremony and will now eat a third pastila and, besides, I will also, as a keepsake, take a confetti cracker and a nut.”

At this point, I almost began to cry. Because she could reach whatever she wanted and I could not reach anything.

I say to her: “But I, Lelishcha, will bring a chair to the yolka and get myself something else from the tree, besides an apple.”

And then I tried, with my thin little arms, to drag a chair over to the yolka. But the chair fell on me. I tried to lift the chair up, but it fell again. Directly on the presents.

Lelya says: “Minka, it looks as if you have broken a doll. And so you have. You broke the arm of a china doll.”

The sound of mama’s steps approached, so Lelya and I ran into the other room.

Lelya says: “Well now, Minka, I really can’t guarantee that Mama won’t give you a thrashing.”

I wanted to cry, but right at that moment, the guests arrived. Lots of children with their parents.

And then our mama lit all the candles on the tree, opened the door and said: “Come in, all.”

And all the children went into the room where the yolka stood.

Our mama says: “Now, each child should come to me, and I will give each a toy and a treat.”

And so, the children went up to our mama. And she gave each one a gift. Then she took from the yolka an apple, a pastila and a candy, and also gave a present to the baby.

And all the children were very happy. Then mama took the apple which I had bitten and said: “Lelya and Minka, come here. Which of you two ate this apple?”

Lelya said: “That’s Minka’s doing.”

I yanked on Lelya’s ponytail and said: “Lelka showed me how.”

Mama says: “Lelya I am sending you to stand with your nose in the corner. And you, I planned to give you a wind-up locomotive. But now I will give this wind-up locomotive to the little boy to whom I almost gave the bitten apple.”

And she took the locomotive and gave it to a four-year-old boy. And he immediately started to play with it.

And I got very angry at this boy and hit him on the arm with a toy. And he cried out so desperately that his own mama took him by the hand and said, “My boy and I will not be visiting you ever again.”

And I said: “You may go, and then the locomotive will be mine.”

And the mother was surprised by my words and said: “Your son will probably end up a thug.”

And then my mama took me by the hand and said to that mama: “You have no right to speak that way about my son. It would be best if you and your scrofulous child leave and never came back.”

And the other mama said: “So I will. Being with you is like sitting in a nettle patch.”

And then another, third, mother said: “I’m going as well. My daughter did not deserve to be given a doll with a broken arm.”

And my sister Lelya cried out: “You can also leave with your scrofulous child. And then I will get the doll with the broken arm.”

And then I, sitting in my mama’s lap, cried out: “You can all leave, and then all the toys will be ours.”

And then all the guests began to leave.

And our mama was surprised that we were all alone.

But suddenly papa came into the room.

He said: “Such an upbringing is spoiling my children. I don’t want them to fight, quarrel and chase away guests. They will find it difficult to live in the world and will die alone.”

And papa walked up to the yolka and blew out all the candles. Then he said: “Go to bed immediately. And tomorrow I will give all the toys to our guests.”

And you see, kids, thirty five years have passed, and to this day I still remember that Christmas tree quite well.

And for all those thirty five years, children, not once did I eat someone else’s apple, and not once did I hit someone weaker than me. And now doctors say that this is why I am comparatively happy and good natured.


First published in Russian: 1939

Translation by Paul E. Richardson

Image:  Glade jul by Viggo Johansen (1891)

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