Does the title of this short Christmas story inspire visions of Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick, sugar plums, presents and little children? Or perhaps you imagine the comfort of a good night’s sleep and the joy of Christmas morning? Well, wipe those thoughts right out of your mind. Gogol’s The Night Before Christmas is as far from the favourite poem of my childhood as I could imagine. He tells of adultery, the devil, thievery and unrequited love in a way that’s rather odd but extremely amusing. It’s certainly a different perspective on a very important evening.
The Night Before Christmas
The story is so bizarre that I won’t describe the storyline in full, but suffice it to say, Gogol populates his tale with characters who display the same Russian extremes of emotion and action that we often experience in Russian novels. The Devil appears on a snowy Christmas Eve in the village of Dikanka in the Ukraine, determined to make trouble and begins by stealing the moon from the winter night sky. The tale carries on describing the town witch who is visited by certain men of the town for her favours (including the church deacon), a man who is in love with the beauty of the town who treats him with derision and scorn, sacks full of men (and the devil), and a flight to Saint Petersburg on the devil’s back. Add to that threats of suicide, the Tsaritsa’s (Catherine the Great) golden boots and a passel of Cossacks and you have yourself quite a tale. At first I didn’t know quite what to think of it, but as I settled in, the antics of the characters were so entertaining that the story quickly became one of my favourites.
The characters in the tale often use the devil’s name in their speaking, such as, “Go to the devil,” “The devil, he did!,” or “What in the devil are you about?” I wouldn’t do that. In this tale, the devil was always active and his name seemed to invite his mischievous antics. However, he did appear to get his just desserts in the end:
“And so, instead of deceiving, seducing and duping others, the enemy of the human race was duped himself.”
I would highly recommend this rather long short story for a great Christmastime read. Bravo, Gogol!