"At Christmas Time" by Anton Chekhov (1904, 5 pages)
In Honor of Eastern Orthodox Christmas Observations
Christmas Stories by Two Russian Masters
My guess is that if you did a survey as to why the birth of Jesus is observed on December 25 most would give the obvious answer that it was because that is the day on which he was born. In historical fact it is celebrated on that day because in the fourth century church leaders picked that date because it is nine months after the Roman winter solstice. I wondered why Christmas was observed by Ethiopian, Latvian, and Russian Orthodox Churches on January 6 or 7th rather than December 25. A bit of research found the answer for me. In 45 BC the Roman Empire adopted the Julian Calender and until 1582 when a degree by Pope Gregory VIII adopted a new calender it set the date for Christmas as Jan 6 or 7. It appears the Julian Calender was 11 minutes off in the times from one vernal equinox to the next. Easter was set in conjunction with the vernal equinox so this was causing instability in the liturgical calender. By 1758 the Julian Calender set Easter 10 days ahead based on synchronizing it with the vernal equinox. So it was mandated that the Calender be moved back by ten days. Eastern Orthodox churches which had early split from the Catholic Church did not adopt the Gregorian calender for liturgical purposes (though everyone uses it for practical reasons) so Christmas kept as was Jan 6 to the 7th in the mind of believers in the various Eastern Orthodox churches. This was and still is a matter of great importance to strict followers of the doctrines of the Eastern Orthodox Christian faiths. And this is why lots of people celebrate Christmas (Christ's Mass) on Jan 6 or 7th.
Anton Chekhov (1860 to 1904) has the undisputed title of World's Greatest Short Story Writer, with about 600 in his oeuvre. "At Christmas Time" is not one of his more famous story but it is very much a typical Chekhov short story and is a wonderful work of art. It is set in a small village. An older married couple are talking about their only child, a daughter. She married a soldier and he took her away and they have not heard anything about or from her for many years. They do not even know if they have grandchildren or not. This very moving story is about what happens when they hire the village scribe to send a series of ten letters to her daughter and her husband, they do know where she lives at least. The story shows the consequences for the parents as well as for the daughter and son-in-law. In just a very few pages Chekhov compresses many years.
Leo Tolstoy (1828 to 1910) is universally considered the greatest novelist of all times. He also wrote a lot of very good short stories. "A Russian Christmas Party" is about just like what it sounds like it would be. It is a realistic slice of life showing the events, people and activities at a country Christmas party among what seem to be lower gentry provincial Russia. I left this story feeling like I had been to the party. Sometimes I think the only reason Tolstoy's work is not listed in greatest of all short story lists is that people are overpowered by the reading of his great novels and do not proceed on to his shorter works.
This month on The Short Story Initiative hosted by Nancy C of A Simple Clockwork the theme is Russian short stories. This post is part of that event.