Feb 7-17, 2025 • Laurier Park
Edmonton's longest running winter festival!
Writer: Memi von Gaza
Once upon a time not so long ago and not so far away, in the Village of Comfort there lived a little girl named Red Riding Hood. Life in the village was good and everyone had a fine warm place to live and more than enough to eat. One would think, with all these riches, there would be nothing to fear but the more the villagers prospered, the greater and more numerous their fears became. The forests beyond their fields and pastures were feared most of all. Ancient stories of witches, wolves, outlaws and vagabonds who lived there were told and retold so often in the village that they took on mythical proportions.
At first, Red Riding Hood believed these stories. The woods did seem dark and scary as she skipped along the path to Grandmother’s house, but as years passed and nothing horrible ever happened, she began to have doubts. She had, after all, already stepped on a crack and not broken her mother’s back, walked under a ladder on Friday the 13th, made friends with black cats, and slipped out of her bed in the dark of night to dance with the fireflies. Red’s Grandmother never told any horror stories about the forest. On the contrary, most of their time together was spent in the woods playing like children in a magical kingdom.
Red’s Grandmother spent hours teaching Red the lore of the forest – which plants were good to eat, which were poisonous; which birds stayed for the
winter, which flew south; which animals pawed through the snow to find the dry grass, which burrowed nests into the soft earth to sleep away the cold. On rare occasions, Red was allowed to stay overnight at her Grandmother’s house and the two of them crept deep into the woods to lay on their backs in the soft moss listening to the night sounds and watching the stars twinkle through a canopy of trees. If they were very lucky they would even hear the coyotes and wolves howl at the moon.
Each year, in the dead of winter, the Village of Comfort held an annual Manifest Your Fear Festival and villagers created effigies of things they feared the most. Red thought about her greatest fear and decided she could not stand the oppressive mood of the village one minute longer. She feverishly went to work to create a model of the village and all its citizens. Her sculpture angered many. “How can she be afraid of our Village of Comfort!” the villagers exclaimed. Red was all too ready to escape their disapproval and she drew on her red cape, packed some supplies into her basket and headed off into the woods to visit her Grandmother. What awaited her was to change her life forever.
The path through the woods to Grandmother’s house was strangely quiet, almost eerie, but Red, still flush from her rebellion, missed all the signs that something was amiss. As she came upon her Grandmother’s house all was silent, cold, and dark. Trembling with fear, she pushed open the door and
made her way through the darkened room. Red fumbled for a match and lit a candle. As the flicker of candlelight began to illuminate the room, she saw a letter resting upon the table. With a heavy heart she knew her Grandmother was no more. Summoning all of her courage she read the letter. Tears began to flow down her cheeks like rivers but as she read on she began to smile and sometime even laugh. In the end she touched a corner of the letter to the candle flame and watched as it burned. She rubbed out the last glimmers of the ashes with her hands, blew out the candle, squared her shoulders, and set out into the deep woods in a direction she had never gone before.
A full moon was rising over the hill at the edge of the forest illuminating everything in its unearthly light. The valley beyond the hills glowed as if the stars in the heavens had fallen to earth. The silence of the night was broken only by the crunch of her footsteps on the snow and the beating of her heart. She raced to the top of the hill. Spread out before her was a sight so amazing, so utterly enchanting, she wept with joy at the wonder of it all. “Thank-you Grandmother”, she whispered as she saw all the magic that was foretold in her Grandmother’s letter.
Baba Yaga’s house stood proudly on chicken legs and sat on a nest of giant white eggs while Baba Yaga herself tended her fence of glowing embers. The Icy crystals thrown from the sky by Aurora in a fury of exuberance lit up the ridge while the Winter Wolves roamed the hill close by. Below were the valley of Aminata Muscaria and the trees that bore glowing red apples in the middle of winter. In the dark woods beyond was the land of Ruebezahl, the
Lord of the Mountains who is kind to children, but gives everyone else what they deserve. Red giggled as she remembered what her Grandmother had said about Ruebezahl in her letter. “Small wonder Ruebezahl was considered a demon in the village” she thought. Filled with wonder, Red began to explore this new world.
The dark woods in Rubezahl’s valley were stranger than anything Red had ever seen. Old man’s beard hung everywhere and giant glowing eggs swung amongst it. WhenRed put her eye to a hole in one of the eggs she gasped at what she saw. Reeling with vertigo, she fell back right into the arms of the man himself and screamed, more out of surprise than fright. Releasing her with a great exaggerated bow, Ruebezahl said, “Welcome to our world, Red. We have been awaiting you.” She stared at him in wonder – this giant of a man, his red hair and beard flying in the wind, his cloak made of thunder and wild weather wrapped around him like a shroud. Ruebezahl’s eyes crinkled and he said, “I am pleased to see your Grandmother was so very right about you. Shall we?” He gestured to the path that snaked through the woods and followed her as she boldly stepped ahead.
They passed a full moon rising, darted behind it to dance and cast shadows on its face. A spiral path led them to the center of the universe, turned once around themselves, and continued out again to the furthest reaches of the galaxy. They travelled beyond the horizon to the land of the White Wolves, where the icy spires thrown down from the sky by Aurora were impaled along a ridge that stretched as far as the eye could see.
And then she saw him, the King of the Wolves against the indigo sky, the most dangerous one of all, the one she feared and loved the most of all the creatures in the forest. Ruebezahl had brought her to this, but he would go no further. “This is your journey” he said “ not mine. I have others to frighten and reward.” Then he turned away in a clap of thunder and left Red to meet her destiny alone.
Although the King of the Wolves did not come to her, his eyes never wavered from hers. In them she saw her past receding, her future before her, and the moment exploding in her mind and heart. The fear that had risen in her throat vanished and joy and excitement grew in her belly until she felt she would burst. With a hearty laugh, Red threw back her head and howled at the moon. At that, the King of the Wolves lost his regal composure. He held out his hand to this girl who dared to meet him eye to eye, joined in her playful howl, and with that, brought her into his fold, the Company of Wolves. Together they walked over the ridge and greeted the winter creatures of the northern forest, blue jays and magpies, squirrels and white weasels, coyotes and owls, moose and deer and others too numerous to mention, all lining the path leading to the most wondrous sight of all.
At the very top of the ridge stood Baba Yaga’s house, its chicken legs folded around a giant nest of eggs, which glowed from within as if they were on fire. Baba Yaga was placing embers from her fire into the skulls on top of the
fence posts of her garden. The skulls were the beautiful remains of every creature that had ever died in the forest. The embers kept their souls warm and their memory alive. Baba Yaga, the fiercest of all the witches, looked up as the pair approached and said, by way of greeting, “So you have come at last.”
Red and the King of the Wolves fell into step with the aged crone as she continued her work and listened as she told the stories of all her creatures large and small. When they came to the end Baba Yaga sat on a toadstool and, motioned everyone to do the same. Then she asked Red to tell her story. Red fondly spoke of visits to Grandmother’s house and the ways of the village. When she came to the place in her story where the citizens of Comfort held a festival to Manifest their Fears by building giant wooden effigies in the town square, Baba Yaga snorted with laughter . She laughed so hard tears came out of her nose. “I suppose the statues of me are quite ugly!”, she chortled. “Oh yes!”, exclaimed Red with a wicked grin. “ They even make sculptures ofRuebezahl and him too” she said as she waved at the wolf. “They are most frightening.” “So what do they do with these statues once the festival is over?” Baba Yaga asked.” Well, they take them down and use the wood to build new houses for the young people who are about to be married. They believe nothing should be wasted”, Red replied. “Not even a good fear,” Baba Yaga laughed. “Especially not a good fear”, Red agreed.
“Well, you know what this means, don’t you?” Baba Yaga asked the Wolf. “Oh yes”, he said. “I think it’s time.” They told Red their sudden idea and she
clapped her hands in glee. “It’s absolutely perfect”, she laughed. Baba Yaga, Ruebezahl, and the King of the Wolves would gather all the creatures of the forest. Red would return to the village, and gather all the children who were not yet too frightened to enjoy a real adventure and they would all meet at Baba Yaga’s house. There, they would make firebrands with Baba Yaga’s Magic Fire, awaken the Mythic Fire Dancers from their winter sleep, dance a thousand fires in a fantastic procession, and burn down the statues of fear in the village square.
This they did. It was a grand sight to see all those ugly Fears go up in flames. Even the villagers forgot themselves and had some fun, but when they awoke the next morning and saw the blackened statues standing stark in the snow, they lost their joy and were in horror at what they had done. In a great panic, they gathered the remnants of their fears and whatever other pieces of wood and grasses they could find and built another effigy that would stand even taller. The sculpture was a monstrosity. That night as they thought and prayed and listened to wise ones drone on about how to live a proper life as was the custom, the children slipped away, ran to the woods, gathered more firebrands, engaged the Mythic Fire Dancers, the wild gang of the forest, and returned to the village in another wild procession.
Once again, they set the Effigy of Fear on fire. Again the villagers were captured by the magic, found their joy, and danced far into the night. This time Baba Yaga, Ruebezahl, the King of the Wolves, and Red did not leave when the party was over, but stayed and kept the fires burning all night long.
When the villagers awoke to their inevitable regrets, the Wild Ones greeted them from the warm ashes and distracted them from their doubts by telling them wondrous stories of the forest all day long.
As the sun was setting on that third day, Baba Yaga told with them the most wonderful story of all – the one that was about to happen. She began: It was no accident that your Red Riding Hood would leave all this and find her way to the most magical part of the forest. Red’s Grandmother was my sister and a gentler creature than I. She offered to leave the beauty of the forest and the promise of immortality to bring magic to the people of the world. But her ways frightened those of you who were frightened of yourselves, so you banished her to the woods at the edge of the meadow and allowed only one person to visit her and bring her what she needed. You know that person is Red Riding Hood and you know now that she not only took care of her Grandmother until she died, but followed in her footsteps. She lost her fear of The Great Unknown through the great Bravery of Disobedience and has now brought you the Magic Fire to free you from your fears. Tonight we will gather the remaining embers from this fire and go into the forest to witness and be a part of the greater return of magic to your village and to the world.
And so they did. Children, parents, grandparents, lawyers, mayors, and councilmen, made firebrands and led by the Mythic Fire Dancers followed Red Riding Hood, Baba Yaga, Ruebezahl, and the King of the Wolves through the land of Old Man’s Beard; behind the hill where they danced their shadows on the moon, found the spiral path that wound into the Center
of the Universe and out again to the Event Horizon; over the ridge of Aurora’s luminous shards of ice, past the icy Company of Wolves, and creatures of the forest; all the way to Baba Yaga’s hut where the glowing eggs were about to hatch.
Baba Yaga ran ahead and knelt among the eggs in their nest. She called the children to gather round. The eggs, she said, contained the seeds of fairies that had decided to return to the world. The seeds had sprouted into baby fairies inside the eggs and were ready to be born. With that, the first egg cracked open and spilled hundreds of baby fairies onto the ground. One by one the children came to take a tiny fairy baby into the world. Hundreds upon hundred of fairy babies in the hands of children went off into the night with their parents. Hundreds and hundreds of others flew off on their own and landed in the grasses of the meadows and the glades of the forest. Magic was returning to the village. Magic was returning to the world. Red Riding Hood stood, holding a tiny fairy in her hands, with her Company of Wolves, and shed a tear for her Grandmother who did not live to see it all happen. Baba Yaga shook her head softly and pointed to the sky where Aurora was beginning to flicker and dance in the cold dark sky. ”She is there, sweet Red.” “”She is here, and pointed to the light in Red’s hand, “and She is here”, and she touched Red’s heart.
On dark nights, you too can see the tiny fairies dancing in the meadows and woods near your own home. Your parents and teachers might call them fireflies, but you will know what they really are, won’t you?
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