Once upon a time there lived a peasant named Ivan and his wife, Marya. Ivan and Marya had been married for a long time and were growing old. Their greatest delight came from spending time with the children of their village. Though they loved the neighborhood children, they still spoke of their own longing for a child.
"How I wish we had a child of our own," Marya would say to her husband, and he would touch her hand and nod. Sometimes they would sit for hours, their hearts filled with sadness, for they knew the time had passed and they would never have a child.
One cold wintry day, Ivan and Marya sat inside their cottage watching the neighborhood children playing in the falling snow outside.
"Let's go out and join the children," Ivan said. "We'll build our own snowman."
Filled with the spirit of the season, they ran outside and began to make a snowman.
After she had rolled a great ball of snow, Marya suddenly said, "Ivan, let's make a snow maiden. Then we'll have our own special child."
Ivan at once agreed, and they set to work making a snow child.
On they worked as the snow fell and the world around them seemed to be only a swirl of bright whiteness. "It's so beautiful," Marya sang as she worked, rolling the tiny balls of snow for their snow maiden's curls. Ivan smiled as he watched their snow child grow larger and more beautiful.
"The world is indeed beautiful," Ivan said, "and our child is beautiful too."
Soon the snow stopped falling. Just as Ivan added the last touch, carving out the fingers of his snow child's hand, the snow maiden moved. Ivan drew back in fright as he felt the warmth of the snow maiden's hand on his own. Marya gasped when she saw the snow maiden's eyes sparkle, and turn from small, dark holes into dazzling blue eyes. And then, as they stared, the snow child's lips turned rose-colored and broke into a lovely smile.
"What can this be?" Ivan cried. "What is happening? Is this my imagination?"
In answer, the snow maiden bent her head, and all the snow fell from her hair, which turned to golden curls, haloing her beautiful face. She took a step toward Ivan and Marya, her arms outstretched.
"Ivan!" Marya cried. "Heaven has heard our prayer and sent us our own dear child." She embraced the girl, and Ivan picked her up, covering her with Marya's brightly colored shawl. Together Ivan and Marya carried their child into their house.
Before long, word spread throughout the village about the miraculous snow maiden. All the children came to meet her. In return she offered them her gentle, good-natured friendship. Soon she learned how to speak, and when she did, her voice was as lovely as the song of the larks in springtime.
Snowmaiden, for that was the name she was given, was gentle and kind. She seemed to love everyone, and everyone loved her. And most of all Snowmaiden loved her parents, Ivan and Marya.
All through that long winter, Ivan and Marya were filled with more spirit and joy than they had ever imagined possible. The children of the village thanked them for bringing them such a wonderful playmate and friend.
At long last winter came to an end. The sun began to shine more brightly. The days grew longer. The earth, warmed by the touch of the sun, began to grow warm. The ice in the lakes and streams cracked, and the water began to gurgle springtime songs. Here and there, in places where the snow had melted, the green grass peeked through.
Everyone in the village shed their winter clothes with the first signs of spring. Everyone grew happier. Everyone, that is, except Snowmaiden. She sat by the window, and her once-happy face turned sadder as the days passed.
"What is wrong, dear child?" Marya asked Snowmaiden. "Are you well?"
"I'm fine, Mother," Snowmaiden said, though her voice was filled with sadness.
The snow had almost melted. Tulips and daffodils poked their heads above the ground. The birds returned and sang day and night. But Snowmaiden grew sadder still.
Sometimes she would run into the darkest corners of the forest, hiding beneath the cover of thick pines from the sun's touch. At night she grew happier, and some days, when a late winter storm raged, bringing with it the last breath of winter, Snowmaiden's spirits soared.
At last spring broke through completely. "Come with us," Snowmaiden's friends called to her. "We are going to the fields to play."
Snowmaiden shook her head, hiding inside the cottage. "No, I cannot play in the fields today," she said to her friends. But Marya at last convinced her sad little daughter to run outside to play. "It will cheer you, daughter," she said.
Snowmaiden loved her mother and wished to make her happy, so she agreed at last to join her friends.
Off the children ran, into the fields to pick the first wildflowers. They danced together, and played music and sang, and told each other fanciful stories. But all day long Snowmaiden sat quietly, brushing back the tears that fell from her eyes.
As the day was coming to an end, the children gathered to make the journey home. When they called to Snowmaiden, she did not answer. They ran about the fields, searching for their friend. She was nowhere to be found.
"She must have gone home without us," one of the girls said. The children raced as fast as they could to Marya and Ivan's house.
"Is Snowmaiden home?" the children asked.
Marya shook her head. Her heart grew heavy with dread. "She was with you," Ivan said.
The entire village gathered to look for Snowmaiden. They searched through the forest. They searched in the market square. They searched every stable and barn.
Alas, Snowmaiden was gone.
Ivan and Marya wept with grief. As the months passed, they spoke of little else but their beloved Snowmaiden.
One day, Marya took her husband's hands in her own and said, "Darling Ivan, we must remember Snowmaiden came to bring us joy. We are the luckiest people in the world, for we were given a gift. We must always remember to cherish that."
When they walked outside and heard the nightingale's song, Marya turned to Ivan, and they both smiled. "Do you hear her?" Marya whispered. Ivan nodded.
They could hear Snowmaiden's voice in the rush of the springtime wind, in the songs of the birds, in the rustling of the leaves. At last they knew that Snowmaiden would always be with them in spirit, and they prayed that with each winter she would come to live with them again.