Papa Panov's Special Christmas: Synopsis and Analysis

Understand the Themes Behind This Children's Tale

Leo Tolstoy, Yasnaya Polyana estate in May 1908
Leo Tolstoy - Yasnaya Polyana estate in May 1908. by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky

Papa Panov's Special Christmas is a short children's story by Leo Tolstoy with heavy Christian themes. Leo Tolstoy, a literature giant, is known for his lengthy novels such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina. But his expert use of symbolism and way with words is not lost on shorter texts, such as this children's tale. 

Synopsis

Papa Panov is an elderly cobbler who lives by himself in a small Russian village.

His wife has passed and his children are all grown up. Alone on Christmas Eve in his shop, Papa Panov decides to open the old family Bible and reads the Christmas story about the birth of Jesus. 

That night, he has a dream in which Jesus comes to him. Jesus says that he will visit Papa Panov in person tomorrow, but that he will have to pay special attention since the disguised Jesus will not reveal his identity. 

Papa Panov wakes up the next morning, excited about Christmas Day and meeting his potential visitor. He notices that a street sweeper is working early in on a cold winter morning. Touched by his hard work and dejected appearance, Papa Panov invites him inside for a hot cup of coffee.

Later in the day, a single mother with a worn face too old for her young age walks down the street clutching her baby. Again, Papa Panov invites them in to warm up and even gives the baby a beautiful brand new pair of shoes that he made.

 

As the day goes by, Papa Panov keeps his eyes peeled for his holy visitor. But he only sees neighbors and beggars on the street. He decides to feed the beggars. Soon it is dark and Papa Panov retires indoors with a sigh, believing his dream was only a dream. But then the voice of Jesus speaks and it is revealed that Jesus came to Papa Panov in each and every person he helped today, from the street sweeper to the local beggar.

 

Analysis

Leo Tolstoy focused on Christian themes in his novels and short stories and even became a major figure in the Christian Anarchism movement. His works such as What Is to Be Done? and Resurrection are heavy readings that promote his take on Christianity and are critical governments and churches. On the other side of the spectrum, Papa Panov's Special Christmas is a very light read that touches on basic, non-controversial Christian themes.

The main Christian theme in this heart-warming Christmas story is to serve Jesus by following his example and thus serve each other. The voice of Jesus comes to Papa Panov at the end saying,

"'I was hungry and you fed me,' he said. 'I was naked and you clothed me. I was cold and you warmed me. I came to you today in everyone of those you helped and welcomed.'"

This allues to a Bible verse in Matthew 25:40,

"For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in...Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." 

In being kind and charitable, Papa Panov reaches Jesus. Tolstoy's short story serves as a good reminder that the spirit of Christmas doesn't revolve around getting material presents, but rather giving to others beyond your immediate family.