FAIR Saturday took place on November 25, the day after Black Friday. The aim of Fair Saturday is to celebrate cultural connections and support social causes. It brings people together to share their traditions and it’s a way of acknowledging the importance of artists, musicians, cultural organisations and activities.

It’s not a coincidence that it takes place the day after Black Friday. We all love a bargain, of course, but Fair Saturday is a wonderful counterbalance to the consumerist idea that stuff is what makes us truly happy. We all need some stuff but, in the end, what’s really vital is relationships, community connections and sharing who we are. It’s a theme that fits with St Andrew’s Day as well.

Across Scotland, there were events and activities in which people shared their traditions and culture, and many different organisations and community groups took part. You can check the Fair Saturday website to find out more about them.

I felt privileged to be part of it, storytelling at an event held in the Scottish Storytelling Centre. The event had a Ukrainian-Scottish theme, with Ukrainian dancers and singers, as well as ceilidh dancing led by the Balkan Ceilidh Collective, providing an eclectic mix of traditional Scottish and Eastern European music.

In the hour before the event, I was walking up the Royal Mile thinking about what stories to tell. There was a bright moon in the sky and it was freezing cold. Winter had truly arrived, which always makes me think of those who have no secure shelter. The clear night sky in winter can be beautiful yet deadly for those who are forced to sleep under it.

Then a fox startled me. It ran out from a close, stopped, briefly glanced at me, then vanished down another close. I smiled because the fox made me remember a story.

It’s called ‘The Mitten’. It was first told to me decades ago during a gathering in the kitchen of the flat I stayed in when I was living in the Czech Republic. It was an old building with not very efficient heating. The kitchen was the only room in the flat that was warm in winter, so one evening some friends and colleagues gathered there around a candlelit table to share stories.

The idea was we would share a favourite or remembered traditional tale from our childhood. One of the stories shared that night was The Mitten, told by someone with a Ukrainian parent or grandparent, although I recall she was Slovak. The story was from her childhood memory.

So, decades later, as the memory of the story came back to me, prompted by the fox who startled me, I decided to share the tale. It fitted with the Ukrainian theme of the event and the values of Fair Saturday.

Quick research revealed many versions but I adapted it with the agreement of the Ukrainians, who were happy with the version I made. So here is a shortened version of the tale:

‘One cold hard winter, an old man was shivering in his cottage. His bed covers didn’t keep out the cold and his fire lacked wood and so went out during the coldest part of the night.

So in the morning he headed out to the wood to collect sticks for his evening fire. He put on his cosy soft mittens to keep his hands warm but needed to take one off to collect the wood.

He tucked it carefully under his belt but, unfortunately, it fell onto the snow-covered frozen ground without him noticing.

By the time he realised he’d lost his mitten, it was too late to search for it as it was getting dark. He decided he’d search for it the following day.

The mitten lay on the ground and a passing mouse saw it. The poor creature was freezing so snuggled into the mitten to keep warm. Then a frog saw the mitten and the mouse agreed to share the mitten with it. Then a hare, frozen to the bone, was allowed in. Along came a fox, almost dead with the cold. It too was welcomed by the animals already inside the mitten. Soon a shivering boar was allowed in, as was a wolf in danger of getting frostbite. Finally, a bear, unable to find a cave, was let in by the other animals. They all shared, and added to, the warmth in the mitten, which magically expanded as each animal squeezed into it.

They slept soundly and cosily during a freezing cold night which would otherwise have been deadly for them all. In the morning, they awoke as the winter sun made the snow-covered land sparkle. They all left the mitten: the mouse found a house, the frog found a log, the hare found a form, the fox found a den, the boar found a bog, the wolf found a wood and the bear finally found a cave.

The mitten had saved them all. Well, it was not just the mitten, but also their willingness to share and be kind to each other, despite their differences.

Finally, the old man arrived and saw his mitten.

“How did that happen?” he wondered to himself.

The mitten was huge now, too big to wear on his hand. But he took it home and that night he used it as a sleeping bag. Even after his fire went out in the dead of night, the warmth of his mitten kept him cosy.’

That’s the tale.

We all take different truths from a story but for me the mitten in this tale is a metaphor for how kindness and empathy, acceptance and the warmth of generosity can potentially have no limits. If we behave like the animals in the story, we can make the seemingly impossible possible.

I know it’s just story but I know people who have the kindness of the mouse, the acceptance of the frog, the empathy of the hare, the appreciation of the fox, the compassion of the boar, the tolerance of the wolf and the understanding of the bear.

That gives me hope that it’s not just a story.