When I was fourteen or fifteen years old, and it was still the Soviet Union, and the winters in Russia were very cold, I went to stay with my grandmother in a village for the school winter break. The village was surrounded by dense forests stretching far and wide, its spruces and pine trees covered by a thick layer of snow. If, with your ski pole, you hit a branch of a spruce (branches so thick we called them "paws"), you would be covered by a waterfall of snow descending from it – a pastime that gave a lot of pleasure to us children.
One morning, on January 6th, I could not find any companions willing to go cross-country skiing with me, so I went alone. I was confident that I knew the nearby part of the forest quite well and that I could never lose sight of the tracks. A small blizzard started blowing, and at first I did not pay much attention to it. Then I noticed that the tracks were now covered with a layer of snow. I still thought I knew my way around, but then it started dawning on me that one clearing in the woods looked exactly like another clearing in the woods. Suddenly I had no idea in what direction my house was anymore. I realized that I was lost.
Panic seized me. I was running in one direction, then in another. It was getting darker, and the pine trees in the wind made a noise that resembled the howling of wolves. I started crying and thought that maybe I should try to spend the night in the forest and then start searching for my way again in the morning once the sun came up. But the fear kept me going.
Several hours later I finally stumbled on a highway. The highway at that time of night was empty, but after a while, to my great luck, a truck was passing. To my even greater luck, the driver stopped at my frantic waving and agreed to take me to the village I came from, although he was very much puzzled how I'd ended up so far away from it. When we arrived at the village, we were greeted by everybody and the local police who were, in turns, congratulating me on my miraculous return or seriously scolding me for taking off alone into the forest.
A week or two later, when I was back in Moscow, I received a letter. It was written by somebody in the village, yet it was unsigned and I never learned the name of the sender. The letter told me that, unbeknownst to me, I had gotten lost on the Eve of the Orthodox Christmas (January 7th). And that my calamitous disappearance and my miraculous return turned out to be a reminder of Mary and Joseph’s strenuous and exhausting journey to Bethlehem and the miracle that happened in a manger.
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