There are two parts to this six-page story. In the first part, an illiterate peasant woman hires a local man to write a letter to her daughter, who had married and moved to Petersburg four years earlier. The peasant woman had heard nothing from her daughter since then. She pours all her love into a few words of Christmas greeting, although the scribe adds a bunch of meaningless nonsense to fatten the letter up.

In the second part, the letter has arrived at the hydropathic medical establishment where the son-in-law works as a porter. He brings the letter to his wife, who is in their apartment caring for their three small children. Upon reading the letter, she bursts into tears and cries out, "Queen of Heaven, Holy Mother and Defender, take us away from here!"

Her husband recalls that several times she had given him letters to send to her parents, but he never bothered to do it. In the end the wife stops crying, obviously "very much frightened of him--oh, how frightened of him!"


This story, one of two published in 1900 (the other being the novella-length, "In the Ravine"), was among the last stories completed by Chekhov. In the remaining three and a half years of his life, the sickly author wrote only two additional stories, The Bishop (1901) and Betrothed (1903), as he devoted the lion's share of his waning energy to the Moscow Arts Theater--Three Sisters (1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1903) [see annotations in this database].

"At Christmas Time" packs a remarkable amount in a few pages. First, there is the ease with which human communication can be undermined by design, indifference, or accident. The marriage has severed the daughter from parental love and home; she is powerless to reach out to her loved ones in the face of her husband's indifference. Even more tellingly, Chekhov sketches a life of severe emotional abuse (and perhaps of physical abuse as well?) in a few short sentences. The young woman is terrified of her husband. She sits helplessly in their room, surrounded by children, feeling sharp pangs of love and loneliness, but also realizing that she is trapped. There is no way out.


First published in 1900. Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett.

Primary Source

Later Short Stories. 1888-1903


Modern Library

Place Published

New York




Shelby Foote

Page Count