Monday, December 24, 2012

The Night Before Christmas, by Gogol

The Night Before Christmas is an 1832 short story from the second volume of Nikolai Gogol's Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka. Not your typical children's tale of sugar plums and big happy toy-bringers, this story starts out
The last day before Christmas had just closed. A bright winter night had come on, stars had appeared, and the moon rose majestically in the heavens to shine upon good men and the whole of the world, so that they might gaily sing carols and hymns in praise of the nativity of Christ. The frost had grown more severe than during the day; but, to make up for this, everything had become so still that the crisping of the snow under foot might be heard nearly half a verst round. As yet there was not a single group of young peasants to be seen under the windows of the cottages; the moon alone peeped stealthily in at them, as if inviting the maidens, who were decking themselves, to make haste and have a run on the crisp snow. Suddenly, out of the chimney of one of the cottages, volumes of smoke ascended in clouds towards the heavens, and in the midst of those clouds rose, on a besom, a witch.
In addition to the witch, the devil makes an appearance, and, in fact, gets to be a main character in this Christmas story. The devil's first act is to steal the moon:
The devil then, as the devil it was, stole warily to the moon, and stretched out his hand to get hold of it; but at the very same moment he drew it hastily back again, as if he had burnt it, shook his foot, sucked his fingers, ran round on the other side, sprang at the moon once more, and once more drew his hand away. Still, notwithstanding his being baffled, the cunning devil did not desist from his mischievous designs. Dashing desperately forwards, he grasped the moon with both hands, and, making wry faces and blowing hard, he threw it from one hand to the other, like a peasant who has taken a live coal in his hand to light his pipe. At last, he hastily hid it in his pocket, and went on his way as if nothing had happened.
You can read it online. It is certainly not typical of Christmas Eve stories from my own reading. I'm broadening my horizons. The Husband will be so pleased! Or will he?

It has been adapted for 2 operas:

It has been adapted for film 3 times. The first is The Night Before Christmas, a fairly faithful 1913 Russian silent short directed by Ladislas Starevich. Starevich was renowned mainly for his astonishing puppet animation, but this film is primarily live action with some interaction between animation and the live action. The second film adaptation is a 1951 Soviet animated short also titled The Night Before Christmas. The third is a 1997 animated film short, also Russian and also named The Night Before Christmas.

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