Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast
Birds can represent the fluttering, darting thoughts of intuition. This is why little birds helped Cinderella help herself.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cinderella #58 The Twelve Months (Czechoslovakia, 1896/1966)

Brother June waved his wand and strawberries appeared. Hyman, T.S.

Once upon a time, in Czechoslovakia*, there was “ a widow who had had a daughter named Holena.  In the cottage with them liveed Holen’s stepsister, Marushka.  Now Marushka was so pretty and good that the other two disliked her and made her do all the work.  She had to sweep the rooms, cook, wash, sew, spin and weave, and she had to bring in the hay from the meadow and milk the cow.” Marushka was as hardworking and patient as she was lovely, and her face reflected this.  Holena’s face was a reflection of her ugly heart, and it grew more red and creased as the years passed.  How could such a one ever find a husband with a beautiful younger sister about? Widow and daughter hatched  plan.  “One day in the middle of winter, Holena said she wanted some violets. ‘Listen!’ she cried to Marushka.  ‘You must go up on the mountain and find me some violets.  And they must be fresh, and sweet scented ” she added.  “Whoever heard of violets blooming in the snow?’ cried Marushka.  ‘You wretched creature! Do you dare to disobey me?  Not another word! Off with you and don’t come back without the violets.”  It is very cold in Czechoslovakia in the wintertime.  “Marushka, weeping, made her way to the mountain.  The snow lay deep and there was no trace of any other human being.” At length, when the warmth and life had nearly gone out of her, she saw a glimmer of light.  Soon she could make out “ a large fire burning, and twelve men in long white robes sitting around it.  Three had white hair, three were not quite so old, three were younger and handsome, and the rest still younger. These were the twelve months of the year and they sat silently looking at the fire, each one on a block of stone.  The great January was place higher than the others....Drawing near, she said, ‘Good men, may I warm myself at your fire? I am chilled by the winter cold.’  The great January raised his head and asked, ‘ What brings you here, my child? What do you seek?’ ‘I am looking for violets.’ replied Marushka.  ‘This is not the season for violets.  Do you not see the snow everywhere?’ ‘Yes, but my stepmother and my stepsister haver ordered me to bring them violets from your mountain.  If I return without out them, they will kill me. I pray you, good sirs, to tell me where to find them.” Now January got up and crossed over to March.  He said, ‘Brother March, do you do you take the highest place.’ March obeyed, waving his wand. “Immediately, the flames rose toward the sky.  The snow began to melt, the trees and shrubs to bud.  The grass became green and between the blades peeped the pale primrose.  It was spring, and the meadows turned blue with violets.”  Quickly, Marushka picked an armful, and ran down the mountain.  Here they were grabbed roughly from her with no thanks.  The following day, Holena said,” I long to taste strawberries.  Run and fetch me some from the mountain, and see to it that they are sweet and ripe.’  ‘ But whoever heard of strawberries ripening in the snow? ‘ said Marushka. For this reply, she was kicked out the door and  into the silent, freezing woods.  She heard the door being bolted behind her.  Once more she felt the warmth drain from her, and she shivered in her thin cloak.  As in a dream, she saw again the fire and the twelve men.  ‘Good men, may I warm myself at your fire? The winter wind chills me.” she said politely.  “ Why do you come here? What do you seek?” grumbled old January.  When the child told him of her predicament he frowned with displeasure.  But he said, “ Brother June, do you take the highest place.’  June obeyed, and as he waved his wand over the fire, the flames leaped toward the sky.  Instantly, the snow melted, the earth became green with grass the tree with leaves.  Birds began to sing and flowers blossomed in the forest.  It was summer, and in the sunny glades star-shaped blooms changed into ripe red strawberries.”  Marushka gathered an apronful and ran down the mountain, calling her joyful thanks behind her.  When she got home, her only thanks was a slap.  Holena and her mother ate every berry, demanding all the while to know where Marushka got the strawberries.  When they heard that the fruit was from the mountain, greedy Holena had a new craving.  Now she wanted apples.  “As before, the widow added her commands and threats.  The two seized Marushka roughly and turned her out of the house.  Poor Marushka went weeping through the deep snow up the mountain till she came again to the fire around which sat the twelve months.  Again she begged permission to seek warmth.  When January learned that the girl had been sent in search of apples his brow furrowed and he was silent for a long time.  Then passed the wand to Brother September, “and a flare of red flames made the snow disappear.  The trees leafed out, then brightened with autumn colors.  A frosty wind began to scatter the leaves through the forest.” Marushka found an apple tree, heavy with red fruit.  Shaking it once gave her one apple. She shook it a second time and had two.  She shook it a third time and another fruit fell.  September said, “ That is enough.  Now hurry home.”  With a grateful curtsy, Marushka fled down the mountain, the three apples wrapped safely in her apron. But Holena accused her of greediness when she got back with only three apples. “ You must have eaten the others on your way back, you wicked girl!”  So greedy was Holena for apples, and so sure was she that her stepsister had eaten them on the mountain, that she decided to go and pick more herself.  Her mother begged her not to, but at length, she helped the girl into her warmest cloak, and bade her hurry. Holena marched up the mountain and went straight to the fire.  Barging right up to the flames she thrust her hands into the warmth.  When old January asked sternly, “What has brought you here?  What do you seek?” Holena answered rudely.  That’s when January waved his wand and made the snow fall heavy and thick.  “Holena found herself alone in a wild storm.  Although she tried to make her way home, the only wandered vainly hither and thither through the white forest.” When her daughter did not return, the widow went to seek her.  “But the snow continued to blow in great drifts, covering everything.  The icy north wind whistled through the mountain forests.  No voice answered her cry.  Neither mother nor daughter ever returned home.  Marushka lived on in the little cottage, and it and the field and cow became hers.  In time an honest young farmer cme to share them with her, and they were contented and lived happy as long as they lived."
From: Haviland, ., (1966) . Favorite Fairy Tales Told in Czechoslovakia. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.  
Notes: Once again we have a truly cruel stepmother, and she and her greedy daughter are punished for maltreating Matrushka! This story illustrates so beautifully what it must have been like to live in an isolated, mountain cottage, with little protection from the elements.  Literature connection: See Neil Gaiman,M Is for Magic, a collection of short stories for ages 12+.  October in the Chair, p. 75, is very clearly inspired by some version of this tale.



Montessori Connection 6-9: Measurement of Linear Time/ History and Names of the 12 Months
1. Read the story once again, and pay attention to the months that are listed.
2. Try and name all 12 of the months.
3. Make a list of them and see how many you can spell.
4. Learn about the history of the names of the months. Try these books:The History of the Calendar (The Timeline Library), or The Time Book: A Brief History from Lunar Calendars to Atomic Clocks
 In 1993 Czechoslovakia became two different countries
Ages 9-12: History & Geography of Eastern Europe
1. Notice that this story comes from a country called Czechoslovakia*.
2. Try to find that country on a map of Europe.
3. If your map was printed in the 21st century, you will not be able to find this country.
4. Think about why not. How can a country disappear?
5. Learn about the wars in Europe in the 20th century.
6. Learn that in 1993, Czechoslovakia was divided into two different countries, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. 
7. Learn more about them: http://www.slovakia.org and http://www.czech.cz.

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