The Night Before Christmas, Hardback

The Night Before Christmas Hardback

Part of the Penguin Christmas Classics series

4.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Gogol's classic, uproarious folktale, presented in a beautiful hardcover edition perfect for giving as a gift.

Written in 1831, this dark tale relates the adventures of Vakula, the blacksmith, in his fight against the devil, who has stolen the moon above the village of Dikanka and is wreaking havoc on its inhabitants, all to win the love of the most beautiful girl in town.

The basis for many film and opera adaptations, and still a story traditionally read aloud to children on Christmas Eve in Ukraine and Russia, The Night Before Christmas is the best holiday tale by the man whom Vladimir Nabokov called 'the greatest writer Russia has yet produced'.

Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852) was the son of a Ukrainian gentleman farmer.

He attended a variety of boarding schools, where he proved an indifferent student but was admired for his theatrical abilities.

In 1828 he moved to St. Petersburg and began to publish stories, and by the mid-1830s he had established himself in the literary world and been warmly praised by Pushkin.

In 1836, his play The Inspector-General was attacked as immoral, and he left Russia, remaining abroad for most of the next dozen years. During that time he wrote two of his best-known stories, 'The Nose' and 'The Overcoat,' and in 1842 he published the first section of his masterpiece Dead Souls.

Gogol became increasingly religious as the years passed, and in 1847 he became the disciple of an Orthodox priest who influenced him to burn the second part of Dead Souls and then abandon writing altogether.

After undertaking an extreme fast, he died at the age of forty-two.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 96 pages, illustrations
  • Publisher: Penguin USA
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
  • ISBN: 9780143122487



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Review by

Gogol's story opens on Christmas Eve with the scene of a witch and a devil who are up to no good. The devil has in mind to foil the plans of devout local blacksmith, Vakula, to pay court to the village beauty, Oksana. Oksana is as dreadfully vain as she is beautiful, and has chased off all her many suitors, mistreating them and playing hard to get, not to mention spending more time with her mirror than with them. Frustrated by the continual rebuffing of his advances, Vakula has nearly given up on Oksana and life itself, when he comes up with one last risky gambit to win her affections. I'll say no more for fear of giving away overmuch, but I was thoroughly charmed by Gogol's remote village where carolers traverse the town on a cold, crisp Christmas Eve, singing for treats from the townspeople. Besides the witch and the devil and the unfortunate Vakula, the town is populated by a cadre of important men made laughable by their foibles, a crowd of fierce housewives, and gaggles of laughing girls. Despite the less than traditional Christmas content, I found Gogol's story to be a delicious and humorous little folk tale of his own creation and a welcome departure from the Christmas norm.

Review by

What a delightful little story this was. Charles Dickens had a miser and ghostly visits which allowed him to travel in time; Gogol has a witch, a devil, and men chasing after women with some wink-wink references for adults. While Dickens writes the chaste story of spiritual enlightenment, Gogol writes a madcap, magical, almost ribald adventure, drawing inspiration from Ukrainian folktales. The introduction says the book is still read aloud to children on Christmas Eve in Ukraine and Russia – interesting! I think that would be a lot of fun, and would recommend this beautiful little edition, which also has illustrations (mostly by 19th century artist Konstantin Makovsky), which add to its charm.Quotes:On the devil:“As soon as the moon disappeared into the devil’s pocket, it became so utterly dark that no one could have found his way to the village tavern, let alone the deacon’s house. The witch, finding herself surrounded by blackness, shrieked in fear, but the devil sidled up to her, took her gently by the arm, and whispered what men all over the world whisper to the fair sex. Can you believe it – the devil flirting? But that’s life – everyone strives to imitate everyone else.…Every living creature wants to get on in the world, and the devil was no exception. The most grating aspect of his behavior was that he obviously fancied himself a sharp-looking fellow, whereas in truth it hurt one’s eyes to look at him. But then the sky and everything below it grew so hopelessly dark that we couldn’t tell you what happened between the handsome couple.”And:“The frost was increasing. Up in the sky it had become so cold that the devil couldn’t keep still and hopped from hoof to hoof, blowing on his numb fingers – understandable behavior in someone who spends his days in front of an enormous fire roasting sinners, just as our housewives roast sausages for Christmas.”And:“In the meantime, the devil had thoroughly relaxed at Solokha’s. He covered her arm with kisses, clutched at his heart, sighed and moaned, and finally announced that unless she agreed to satisfy his passion, he’d go and drown himself, ruining his immortal soul. Solokha wasn’t that cruel, and besides, they really were birds of feather. She greatly enjoyed having a train of suitors, but this evening she expected to be alone, since every prominent villager was going to the deacon’s. Only now this plan changed: no sooner had the devil declared his passion than they heard the voice of Dikanka’s village head demanding to be let in. The hostess rushed to open the door, and the devil promptly jumped into the smallest of the coal sacks.”I love the feeling evoked by this one:“During the devil’s brief excursion out of and back into the chimney, his little side pouch got untied – and the moon slid out and rose slowly into the sky. The whole world changed. The blizzard died down, the ground lit up like a silvery desert, and even the cold seemed warmer. Bands of girls and boys carrying sacks with treats poured into the streets, and Christmas carols filled the air. What a gorgeous night! How can one describe the fun of mingling with the carolers? It’s nice and warm under the sheepskin, the cold paints the young cheeks brighter, and the devil himself goads youngsters into mischief.”And this one as well:“At first Vakula felt uneasy flying so high above the ground; passing under the crescent moon, he actually had to duck. But little by little he recovered and began to tease the devil, who sneezed and hiccupped every time Vakula touched his little cypress cross.Everything glittered in the bright moonlight; the air was a transparent silvery mist. One could see everything that was happening in the sky: a wizard racing in his cauldron, stars playing hide-and-seek, a group of ghosts hanging together like a cloud, a devil dancing in the moonlight, a broomstick returning home after transporting a witch … All kinds of riffraff flew past them. Every creature slowed down to take a look at the blacksmith riding a devil, then continued on its way. Suddenly they saw a whole ocean of light – they had reached St. Petersburg. On approaching the city gate the devil turned into a magnificent mount, and Vakula rode horseback into the capital.”

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