Artiom, at the grand age of four-and-three-quarters, knows already who brings the Christmas gifts to his home on a surprise night during Advent. But for Artiom, at the grand age of four-and-three-quarters, knowing is not enough. He needs to hear the story.
Grandmama, for her part, at the grand age of eighty seven, is old enough to know that a life is nothing more than its stories and memories. So though she has told Artiom the story twice this week already, she starts once more.
"It is Baboushka, child," Grandmama says. "Baboushka brings your presents."
Artiom has climbed onto her knee. "Why?" he asks.
"She brings you gifts in case you are God's chosen one, the Messiah."
"Why?" Artiom asks again. Grand-mamas need prompting. He knows this.
"Many centuries ago, long before even I was alive," Grandmama tells, "the Christ child, God's chosen one, was given to the world.
"This child was a king, though he was not born at a palace, but underground, in a cave where animals were kept. The birth of this Messiah would have been a forgotten secret but for a star. A bright star shone above the cave that night."
Wide-eyed, Artiom listens. Grandmama is on her way now.
"Astrologers, men who watch the skies, had seen the star many weeks before. As students of the skies, they knew the star signalled the birth of a great and noble king. So they sold all they had, except what they needed for the journey, packed their bags onto their camels, and followed the star. With the money they had made from selling their possessions, they bought gifts for this new born child.
"To follow the star, they travelled at night. During the daylight, they pitched their tents to eat, rest, and sleep, and to allow the beasts they travelled with to do the same. On occasion they passed through a village and were welcomed by the locals. Then they stayed at a home for a meal and a bed, in exchange for which they told story of their journey.
"In one such home they stayed with a lone woman, Baboushka. They slept little that day, because Baboushka, they discovered, was loved and cherished as a kindly aunt by the children of her village. The children frequently visited her home with their laughter and games.
"Baboushka was loved for her smile, and for her gentle, playful nature. It was said her eyes sparkled like a little girl's, and her laugh was as careless as the chirping of a sparrow.
"When they allowed her to, which was often, Baboushka joined in with the children's games. She never lost her temper and never scolded, not even when two impudent girls stole newly-sewed dresses from her workroom to try them on, then ruined the dresses by playing in the dust of the street while wearing them.
"Most of all, Baboushka was loved because of her special gifts. Each year, on every child's birthday, she would make them a trinket - a toy or a hat or a purse - with left-over materials from her dress-making. Always, these gifts met the child's unspoken desires.
"Now, when the astrologers arose from the little slumber they had managed that day, Baboushka shared with them her evening meal, and for their part, the astrologers told their story and showed Baboushka the star shining in the evening sky.
"Upon seeing the star, Baboushka proclaimed: 'Allow me, wise gentlemen, to join you on your journey to visit this noble child, whom you call the Prince of Peace. Let me come with you to bring my own gift.'
"The astrologers discussed Baboushka's proposal among themselves, and after only a little debate they decided she should join them, provided she could withstand the hardships of the journey.
"'I'm a tough woman,' she said. 'Give me a day to prepare my home, to tidy it for the weeks I will be gone, and to make arrangements with my neighbours for the time I am away.'
"But the astrologers said no, they must depart tonight to keep pace with the star. Baboushka must leave with them at once.
"Baboushka would not come. She needed to prepare her home. So, with heavy hearts, the astrologers thanked her for her hospitality and bid her farewell..."
This is Part I of a two part Christmas fable. Read Part II here.