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Where Love Is, God Is: The story of Papa Panov

To reflect on the true meaning of Christmas through acting out a story.

by Jenny Tuxford

Suitable for Key Stage 2


To reflect on the true meaning of Christmas through acting out a story.

Preparation and materials

  • The children could prepare ‘still pictures/tableaux’ to illustrate the story of Papa Panov as it progresses.


  1. Tell the children you are going to read them the story of Papa Panov. Tell them it is based on a story that was originally written in French, then adapted by Leo Tolstoy, a famous Russian writer. Then tell them that the theme of the story is that where Love is, God is.

  2. Everyone sings the carol ‘In the bleak midwinter’.
  3. Read the story of Papa Panov.

    Papa Panov’s Special Day
    Now it is time to get on with the show,
    But before we begin there are things you should know:
    Papa Panov’s the hero of our little play.
    And tomorrow, of course, it will be Christmas Day.

    Here is his house on this quiet little street,
    Where he makes leather shoes for the villagers’ feet.
    Now you’re here – and you’re welcome!
    We’re ready and so
    WELCOME TO RUSSIA – a few years ago.

    See, there’s the chair where he rests his head,
    A stove and a lamp and a comfortable bed.
    People buy new shoes – or if they are old
    They bring them here to be heeled and soled.

    Papa Panov has money for bread to eat
    And enough for some cabbage, his teatime treat.
    He’s mostly quite happy as he sits in his seat,
    Waving to all passers-by in the street.

    But today he is quietly shedding a tear,
    He is sad even though Christmas Day’s nearly here.
    His wife sadly died. He was left all alone.
    And his children have moved to make homes of their own.

    So now, as he stands at his window and stares,
    He is glum for he feels that nobody cares.
    In all other homes he sees Christmas trees
    And people at home with their dear families.

    He hears laughter from children, who are playing together,
    And all this makes him feel more lonely than ever.
    ‘Dearie me,’ Papa Panov says sadly, and sighs.
    ‘Dearie me,’ he says miserably, wiping his eyes.

    Music and cooking smells hang in the air,
    Only poor Panov is filled with despair.
    (Play a few bars of soft music while Papa Panov chooses a book and sits down to read.)
    Feeling very unhappy and lonely indeed,
    He opened a book and started to read.

    ‘The . . . Story . . . of . . . Christmas,’ Papa Panov began –
    (He couldn’t read as well as all of you can.)
    ‘Mary and Joseph came a very long way,
    But in Bethlehem, sadly, there was no room to stay.

    ‘They’d come all that way to Bethlehem city
    And no vacancies anywhere! Oh, what a pity!
    “There’s no space in my inn,” an innkeeper said,
    “But there’s straw in the stable you could use as a bed.”

    ‘So there in the cowshed poor Mary gave birth.
    And the little Lord Jesus came down to Earth.
    – Oh dearie, oh dearie. Oh dearie, oh dear!
    If only she’d had her wee baby here.
    Oh dearie, dearie,’ the shoemaker said,
    ‘I would have given the baby my bed.’

    Outside in the street it was snowy and damp,
    He poured out some coffee and switched on the lamp.
    He read how three men turned up, out of the blue,
    With presents – gold, myrrh and frankincense too.

    ‘If Jesus came here, how embarrassed I’d be,
    I’m all out of gold, myrrh and incense, you see.’
    Papa Panov stood up and smiled to himself
    And lifted a box gently down from the shelf.

    ‘I can’t give him cabbage, coffee or bread,
    A baby needs something more useful,’ he said.
    ‘But I know what I’d give him. I know what I’d choose,
    I’d give him this present – my best pair of shoes.’
    Then, heaving a sigh that was wistful and deep,
    Within twenty seconds, he’d fallen asleep.

    Outside grey shadows went streaming along.
    Inside Papa Panov went sweet-dreaming on,
    Until he heard the strangest sound!
    ‘Papa Panov! Papa Panov!’
    He opened his eyes and looked around.
    How strange! Hadn’t somebody just called his name?
    He listened and there – the voice came again:

    ‘Papa Panov! Papa Panov!
    I am the one you are hoping to see.
    Can it be true you’ve a present for me?
    Tomorrow, I promise, I’m coming your way,
    But just who I am I’m not able to say.
    Keep looking for me as I walk down your street.
    Tomorrow, I promise, we’re going to meet.’

    Papa Panov woke up. The sky had turned grey
    And the bells were ringing for Christmas Day.
    ‘Jesus was here! He spoke to me!
    It wasn’t a dream – it was real as can be!

    ‘He said that today we’re destined to meet.
    Today he promised to walk down my street!
    But how will I know, when he comes, that it’s him?
    Will he be Jesus, Man, Boy or King?

    ‘I’ll have to watch closely and I’ll tell you this:
    This is a meeting I’m not going to miss.
    I must keep a look-out all day today
    And notice when Jesus comes walking this way.’

    He made some coffee, had something to eat,
    Then sat in the window, looking out on the street.
    When he first looked out his hopes were high,
    But hardly anyone seemed to pass by.

    But look! Someone is coming! They’re going to pass.
    He pressed his face up against the glass.
    Could this be Jesus? Could it possibly be?
    He squinted through the glass to see.

    But no. This wasn’t him. He felt upset,
    But he knew he mustn’t stop looking just yet.
    The man swept the roads: a familiar sight.
    Papa Panov recognized this man all right.

    But he was waiting for Jesus! This was all wrong.
    He wished the sweeper would hurry along.
    But no, he stood shivering there in the street,
    Rubbing his hands and stamping his feet.

    Papa Panov felt cross, but he had to admit,
    What bad luck to work Christmas Day, wasn’t it?
    The sweeper looked frozen, so he’d help if he could.
    He hobbled outside to where the man stood.

    ‘I’m making some coffee. Would you like a cup?
    Come, stand by my stove and warm yourself up.’
    The man looked surprised. ‘I don’t mind if I do.
    You’re a real gent you are. This is generous of you.’

    The cobbler smiled and picked up the pot,
    Poured two mugs of coffee, strong, black and hot.
    ‘Not at all, not at all! It’s the least I can do.
    Today it is Christmas. Happy Christmas to you!’

    ‘This is the only greeting I’ll get,
    And the only gift I’ll receive, I bet.’
    The stove dried the sweeper’s clothes out really well,
    But the room was filled with a very sour smell.
    Papa Panov sighed softly and returned to his seat,
    And carried on looking out into the street.

    ‘Are you waiting for someone?’ the road sweeper said.
    ‘Jesus,’ the cobbler said, nodding his head.
    He related the tale from beginning to end.

    ‘Well, I wish you good luck, my generous friend.
    I hope you soon find this Jesus you seek.’
    And he smiled a smile for the first time that week.
    ‘Oh, I will, I will – of that there’s no doubt,
    And so I don’t miss him, I must keep looking out.’
    The road sweeper sighed. ‘I must go, I believe.’
    And off he went, wiping his nose on his sleeve.

    The cobbler stood waving and watching him go,
    As a weak sun came out to start melting the snow.
    People passed by quite quickly and shouted, ‘Hello.’
    ‘But every one of these people I know.’
    He shook his head as he stood at the door.
    Oh where was the One he was waiting for?

    As he turned to go in, two shapes caught his eye.

    A woman and child were about to pass by.

    The woman was thin – her face lined and worn,

    And her clothes were ancient, shabby and torn.

    ‘Hello! Hello there,’ the shoemaker cried.

    ‘You look very cold, won’t you please come inside?’

    The woman looked startled and ready to run,
    But she noticed his eyes, which twinkled with fun.
    ‘Oh thank you so much. How thoughtful you are.’
    Not at all, not at all. Have you got to go far?’

    ‘I’ve four miles to go,’ the woman replied.
    ‘We need somewhere to live now my husband has died.
    My cousin has rooms and she said we could stay.
    If we can only get warm, then we’ll be on our way.’

    ‘But please have some soup and some lovely fresh bread,
    And I’ll heat up some milk for the baby,’ he said.
    The woman sat down and started to eat,
    While the baby drank quickly and played with her feet.

    Papa Panov looked shocked. ‘Dearie me, dearie me –
    The baby’s feet are as cold as can be.
    What this baby needs are shoes made of leather
    To keep her feet cosy whatever the weather.’

    ‘I’d love nothing more than to buy her some shoes,
    But you’ve heard the saying that “beggars can’t choose?”
    I own not one rouble. It’s sad but it’s true.
    With no money for shoes I don’t know what to do.’

    Papa Panov sat still when the child had been fed.
    An exciting idea had popped into his head.
    He nodded and chuckled and smiled to himself
    And lifted a tiny box down from the shelf.

    ‘I have just the thing,’ he said matter-of-factly,
    Tried the shoes on the child. They fitted exactly!
    ‘You really are kind,’ the woman declared.
    ‘It’s been a long time since somebody cared.’

    Papa Panov looked pleased and returned to his seat
    And carried on gazing out onto the street.
    While he’d been bouncing the child on his knee
    Had he missed the One whom he wanted to see?

    ‘Are you waiting for someone?’ the young woman said.
    ‘For Jesus,’ the cobbler said, nodding his head.
    He retold the tale from beginning to end.
    ‘Well I hope that you see him, my generous friend.’

    The young woman smiled and patted his hand.
    ‘This is a dream you have. I understand.
    Thank you, kind sir, now we’ll be on our way.
    Thank you for showing us kindness today.’

    And off she went with a smile on her face.
    For her, the world seemed a much better place.
    Papa Panov put some of his soup on to heat,
    Then quickly went back to sit down on his seat.

    The hours ticked on – some people passed by;
    He examined each one with a very keen eye.
    All sorts of people passed by in a line,
    But of Jesus there wasn’t the tiniest sign.

    Perhaps he’d walked by early on in the day,
    Just at the moment when he’d turned away.
    A moment’s distraction was all it would take
    And now he’d paid dearly for that one mistake.

    He’d missed the man he’d needed to see
    And now he was sad – as sad as can be.
    ‘Oh dearie dear.’ He heaved a sigh,
    But he went to the door for one last try.

    And still people came passing by in the street.
    To some he gave coins, or something to eat.
    To anyone thirsty he offered a drink,
    With always a smile, a nod or a wink.

    But Jesus, quite clearly, did not come along then.
    He searched passers-by – Jesus was not among them.
    As dusk fell, the weather turned terribly cold.
    Papa Panov began to feel lonely and old.

    He went into his house and shut the door tight
    And lit the old oil lamp to give him some light.
    He sat and he moaned in the lamp’s golden glow,
    ‘It was only a dream after all, now I know.
    But I wanted so badly this dream to come true,
    And I hoped Jesus wanted to meet with me too.’

    The tears in his eyes made it quite hard to see.
    ‘Oh dear,’ he sobbed sadly. ‘It was not meant to be.’
    Just then he realized he wasn’t alone:
    Crowds of people were here in his home!

    The mother and child – the sweeper – and more!
    All of these people – he’d seen them before.
    As they walked, he heard voices inside his head.
    ‘Did you see me? Did you see me? Did you see me?’ they said.
    Why they were here he hadn’t a clue.

    ‘Tell me,’ the shoemaker cried, ‘who are you?’
    Then came the voice he’d heard hours ago,
    But whose was the voice he just didn’t know.
    ‘You are the kind man who knows how to give
    And you gave me hope and a reason to live.’

    ‘My baby and I were weary and sore
    And you opened your heart when you opened your door.’
    ‘I was alone – and a real misery,
    But this Christmas you showed such kindness to me.’

    How do we thank you? Where do we begin?
    We were hungry and thirsty. You welcomed us in.’
    Dear Papa Panov, I hope you can see
    That by helping those people you also helped me.’

    Then his tears dried and everyone melted away.
    ‘Dearie, dearie,’ he said. ‘Jesus did come today.’
    This was the very best Christmas he’d had.
    Today he’d helped Jesus. Papa Panov was glad!

  4. Everyone sings the carol ‘Come, come, come to the manger’.

Time for reflection

Plenty of discussion can come from this story and it will be interesting to hear what the children’s thoughts and opinions are.

Spend a few moments reflecting with the children on how they could help make Christmas happy for everyone in their families (remembering that not all of them will have typical families).

Your Christmas?
You’ve waited all year, now it’s Christmas morn,
You’re very excited, you’re up before dawn.
(Your mother is already up, of course –
Cooking the chicken and making bread sauce.
Though she would have liked to stay in her bed,
There are jobs to be done and mouths to be fed.)

You look under the tree, there are presents galore –
All that you asked for and quite a lot more.
You have the good manners to mumble, ‘Thank you.’
After all, your dad’s just reminded you to.
You don’t want to share, so you play on your own,
Well, these toys are yours and yours alone.

All interruptions are met with a moan.
Asked to tidy your mess, you reply with a groan.
Your brother and sister are making a din –
They can’t part their games from their packaging.
The instructions are hard and they don’t understand,
But you’re far too busy to lend them a hand.

You play with just one of the toys that you got.
Dinner’s delicious – you scoff the whole lot.
Mum’s washing up! You stay out of the way.
(Being helpful to others isn’t part of your day.)
The dog, dad and granny have fallen asleep.
Mum’s in the kitchen, collapsed in a heap.

It’s the end of the day. You’ve had lots of fun,
But you’re tired with all of the jobs you’ve not done.

Ask the children:
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
If so, then here are some things you can do:

Think of others now and again.
Don’t ask if you can help, but how and when.

Remember all those who are left on their own,
Who haven’t a family, or even a home.
All those for whom Christmas is not very nice,
Whose Christmas dinner is rice . . . or . . . rice.
And when you’ve really thought about it,
Why not see what you can do about it?

Sing the carol ‘O little town of Bethlehem’.

Dear Father, this Christmas may we know the peace and happiness that comes from being with friends and family who care about us.
Please help us to think about other people when we are enjoying ourselves,
and to find ways to show our love for them.


‘In the bleak midwinter’ (Hymns Old and New, 248)
‘Come, come, come to the manger’ (Hymns Old and New, 89)
‘O little town of Bethlehem’ (Hymns Old and New, 377)

Publication date: December 2010   (Vol.12 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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