“Why can’t we celebrate Christmas tomorrow in St. Nicholas?”
Set in a small Russian village, young Alexi asks his babushka (grandma) why they cannot celebrate Christmas in their village church of St. Nicholas. In the wake of the Bolshevik revolution, the communists vigorously worked to eradicate religion because it threatened the Russian people’s dependence on the State. In this story for children, the babushka doesn’t go into the political details, but merely explains that the government closed the churches and “all of the things inside disappeared.” This Christmas, however, there is no prohibition against worship so Alexi takes it upon himself to clean out the church and get it ready for Christmas Day mass. What Alexi does not know is that all of the villagers have a happy secret.
We cried through this book by Gloria Whelan: twice. A play on the loaves and fishes idea from the Gospel, the village does celebrate Christmas Day mass in St. Nicholas Church because God works a miracle through each little family in the village. Even the unmarried cobbler has a central role to play. This story is grippingly beautiful.
Gorgeously illustrated by Judith Brown with egg tempera paints, the art is an homage to the Russian work of iconography.
This is not a story about the Bishop of Myra, St. Nicholas. If you are looking for a traditional account of the 4th century inspiration for Santa Claus, this will disappoint. If you are looking for a gorgeous Christmas story set in Russia, I emphatically recommend this one.
The traditional religion of the village of St. Nicholas is Russian Orthodox (a sibling church in the family of Catholic traditions). Although, there is not much detail about the actual religious practice, it is interesting and beautiful context.